News Analysis: Is Turkey serious about becoming SCO member state?

2013-02-09 15:57:27 GMT2013-02-09 23:57:27(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Shi Zhuying

ISTANBUL, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent statement about joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has triggered wide discussion and even speculations on its motives.

The issue of joining the EU or SCO has turned into a hot topic at the three-day Abant Platform in Bolu, about 280 km east of Istanbul. With a focus on Turkey's foreign policy, the meeting started Friday with the participation of over 100 intellectuals, diplomats, journalists and pundits.

Some diplomats and analysts regard Ankara's statement on joining the SCO as political bluff while others seriously take it as an indicator of foreign policy change.

On Jan. 25, Erdogan said that Ankara may decide to join the SCO, stating: "If we get into the SCO, we will say goodbye to the EU. The SCO is better -- much more powerful. Pakistan wants in, India wants in as well. If the SCO wants us, we will become members of this organization."

Talking during a TV speech on foreign policy, Erdogan expressed his dissatisfaction over Turkey's stalling negotiation process with the EU.

"Recently during my visit to Russia I joked with (Russia's President Vladimir) Putin, I said, You poke fun at us by occasionally asking what business we have in the EU. Then let me poke fun at you. Include us in the Shanghai Five and we will give up on the EU," Erdogan said.

On Jan. 31, Turkish Foreign Ministry announced plans to upgrade Turkey from SCO's "dialogue partner" to "observer state."

Furthermore, the prime minister later praised the SCO's " democratization process" while disparaging Europe's "Islamophobia. "

Many Turkish political analysts said the government's SCO statement indicates Turkey's new policy orienting to the East.

"Turkey should put more attention on China, Russia and other Asian partners now. For a long time, Turkey's foreign policy has neglected the East and oriented only to the Europe and the United States. But countries like China are so important for Turkey's sustainable developments... Turkey needs to diversify its international alliance, I am happy that our government has realized it now," Abdulhamit Bilici, a political commentator and general manager of Turkey's Cihan News Agency told Xinhua on the sideline of the Abant Platform.

Pointing out Turkey's SCO ambitions are based on trade and development concerns, Turkish political analyst Abdullah Bozkurt told Xinhua that joining the SCO will help Turkey to achieve the goal of becoming the world's top 10 economy in the future.

Bozkurt said the benefits from the economic growth of China and Russia and the SCO member states' cooperation on energy and transportation are of great interests for Turkey.

Lacking of oil reserve, the energy security is a major concern for Turkey's ambition. Unless Turkey solves its energy problem, it will lose the development momentum and may even face serious political and social instability, he added.

After the 2012 annual summit, the SCO member states have been actively pushing for the establishment of multilateral energy cooperation under the SCO framework.

Thus, the SCO suits Turkey's national interest in the aspects of energy security and business development. Turkey already heavily depends on Russia for importing natural gas. If Turkey successfully joins the SCO, it may further strengthen the energy ties with Russia and other oil-rich central Asian countries.

Meanwhile, some analysts argue that Turkey's talks about joining the SCO serve only the purpose of pressuring the EU. "I don't think the SCO talks were serious," said Larry D. White, an American law professor at Turkey's TOBB University of Economics and Technology.

"Turkey is already a member of NATO. To me, it is impossible for Turkey to join the SCO as a NATO member and a credible U.S. ally," White told Xinhua.

"Also for Turkey's long-term West-oriented foreign policy, joining SCO is a dramatic change," Turkish professor of International Relations with Zirve University Gokhan Baciksaid to Xinhua.

"I think the SCO rhetorics are merely symbolic at the present. Even the Turkish government is sincere about making concrete steps, it takes time to get there," Bacik added.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is established in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO conducts multilateral cooperation between the member states on national security, military, economy and culture. In June 2012, Turkey became a "dialogue partner" at the SCO.

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