Turkey turning toward Shanghai?

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.

The Multilateralist

AU chief: we were too slow on Mali

African Union leaders convened in Ethiopia for their annual summit on Sunday, and outgoing AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi had some tough words for the assembled heads of state:

Outgoing African Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi told African leaders that their response to the conflict in Mali had been too slow, and thanked France for taking the lead in its military intervention in the country.

Boni Yayi, Benin's president, told leaders on Sunday at the opening of the 54-member AU summit that the body's response had taken too long, and that France's action was something "we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country".

The ongoing conflict in Mali is likely dominate the African Union summit which has started in Addis Ababa, as regional leaders try to speed up the deployment of an African force there.

AU leaders will reportedly meet Tuesday to discuss financial and manpower contributions to the French-led effort in Mali:

African leaders and Western delegates will meet Tuesday to drum up support for the African-led mission in Mali, or AFISMA, after the African Union requested urgent support to bolster the force's strength.

AFISMA is intended to support the weak Malian army — which has been boosted by the French military intervention — in its battle against Islamist insurgents, who seized swathes of Mali's desert north following a coup last year.

The AU's peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said he remained "reasonably optimistic" about the outcome of the conference and said the AU would seek financial contributions as well as logistical support.