Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan made waves recently in discussing his country's preference in multilateral forums. Specifically, he said in an interview last week that hewould prefer that Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization rather than the European Union. The International Herald Tribune's Andrew Finkel has the story:
Erdogan threw the diplomatic equivalent of a cream pie during a late-night television interview last Friday. Understandably, he was expressing frustration at stalled negotiations over Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Incomprehensibly, he suggested that Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization instead.
Turkish columnists are now debating whether Erdogan is serious about wanting to play in a different league or bluffing in an attempt to force Brussels into serious negotiations. Or he is kicking up a cloud of dust to distract the public from weightier issues like Kurdish rights or lower economic growth? He has been known to propose out of the blue policies that appeal to his conservative base — banning abortion, restoring capital punishment — but that he has little intention of seeing into law.
In Today's Zaman, Ihsan Dagi argues that Erdogan's comments weren't mere bluff:
He considers the Shanghai organization as an alternative, in fact a powerful and better alternative to the EU. Besides this, I think it is also seen as a matter of “civilizational belonging.” The Turkish prime minister increasingly emphasizes “our own civilization,” referring to the Islamic one. Detachment from the West/EU is expected to “revive” the civilization Turkey represents and leads. There is certainly a growing self confidence that Turkey can and should remain independent to lead instead of tied up with the EU.
Amanda Paul wonders whether the prime minister understands the company he'd be keeping:
Perhaps the prime minister did not have time to read the SCO's Mission Statement. If he had, then he would have seen that the organization is a very different animal to the EU, not least when it comes to promoting democratic values, something Erdo?an always cites as being important to him. The SCO currently comprises Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- a group of undemocratic nations primarily driven by Russia and China, who continue to fight for influence and power in Central Asia, in particular with regard to the region's rich energy resources.
But as Yigal Schleifer points out, Erdogan's stiff-arm to the EU will likely play well with a domestic audience:
The PM is likely also trying to tap into public sentiment. Erdogan's words come at a time when public support for continuing the EU process is at a historic low. A recent survey by the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, for example, found that only 33 percent of those surveyed believed Turkey should continue working towards joining the bloc over the next five years.
Even if Erdogan is serious, there's the question of whether the SCO wants Turkey. Beijing and Moscow haven't said much about his comments, and it's not at all clear they would support the admission of such a powerful new player into what has been their clubhouse.