Turkey turns east as it signs up to SCO security bloc

By bne IntelliNews April 29, 2013

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Frustrated in its attempt to join the EU, Nato-member Turkey signed up as a partner with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the security bloc dominated by China and Russia and including the Central Asian states, declaring that its future lies in Asia.

"This is really a historic day for us," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, according to Reuters, as he signed a memorandum of understanding to became a "dialogue partner" of the SCO - a unique status for a member of Nato - with Secretary General Dmitry Mezentsev.

"We are the first Nato state to establish such a relationship with SCO," he added, reports the Anatolia News Agency. "If we look from a Cold War perspective, these may seem like mutually exclusive institutions. However, the Cold War has ended. Turkey won't be a slave of the Cold War logic."

Instead, Davutoglu stressed that as far as Turkey is concerned, this is "just the beginning" of a process of consolidation amongst the rising emerging markets states of the east. "Now, with this choice, Turkey is declaring that our destiny is the same as the destiny of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries," he said.

Pledging to cooperate with the SCO economically, as well as helping to fight the threat of drugs and terrorists, Davutoglu added: "I hope at the next summit in [the Kyrgyz capital] Bishkek we will be present, as well as at ministerial meetings. This is the beginning of a long way, walking together, hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder."

The status of "dialogue partner," which Sri Lanka and Belarus also hold, is one step below the "observer status" in SCO held by India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Iran and Afghanistan. That gives them the right to participate in SCO meetings but not to vote.

China and Russia formed the SCO in 1996, and the bloc now also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. While it remains a somewhat academic exercise, it's huge potential has regularly attracted states across the region to seek formal attachment. Starting in 2007, Ankara has made three unsuccessful applications to join as a Guest Member. "Turkey will be part of a family, which is composed of the countries which lived together not for centuries - for millennia," Davutoglu said.

Frustrated in its attempt to join the European bloc, Ankara has found common ground recently with the likes of Russia in its opposition to what both view as the meddling of the West in internal affairs - particularly over issues such as democracy and human rights. Although the pair are diametrically opposed on the civil war in Syria, that has not prevented them meeting this month to agree to push economic cooperation. Moscow's pledge to keep away from offshore drilling around the divided island of Cyprus was especially welcomed by the Turkish capital.

Turkey launched talks on joining the EU in 2005, but the status of Cyprus has helped keep progress to a minimum. Opposition in certain states to membership of a Muslin-majority country in the bloc is often underplayed in Europe - although not in Ankara. At the same time, earlier this year, Turkey welcomed Nato Patriot missiles into the country to protect it from Russian-made Syrian missiles.

"[Y]ou start looking around for alternatives," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on TV in January of his country's stalled EU bid. "That is why I told [Russian President] Putin the other day, 'Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say goodbye to the EU.' What's the point of stalling?" He added that SCO "is much better, it is much more powerful [than the EU], and we share values with its members."

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