Turkey gets cold shoulder from Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Turkey gets cold shoulder from Shanghai Cooperation Organization
A scene from the summit of 13 heads of state held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (
Photo:Reuters, RIA Novosti)

Despite Turkey's desire to establish closer ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Turkey, an SCO dialogue partner, was not invited to the organization's latest summit in Bishkek. This, analysts say, is the result of Turkey's image -- due to its Western-linked foreign policy -- as a Trojan horse of the West.

Aydin Albayrak

“They don't want to have Turkey, which they see as a Trojan horse of the West, among them,” Murat Bilhan, vice chairman of the Turkish-Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM), has said.

Unwillingness on the part of the SCO -- or one of its full members in particular -- became more obvious in April at the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the sidelines of which Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu and General Secretary of the SCO Dmitry Mezentsev signed a memorandum of understanding granting Turkey dialogue-partner status in the organization.

That is far from the rank Turkey seeks in the SCO, which brings together Russia, China and other countries in the region in an apparent counter to US influence in Central Asia. Turkey was announced about a year ago as a dialogue partner by the organization, but at the beginning of this year, the Turkish Foreign Ministry made clear that it wants higher status. “Naturally, we wish to become an observer member, […] to improve cooperation with the organization as much as possible,” Selçuk Ünal, then Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, said at a press conference at the end of January.

‘One SCO country against Turkey's membership'

“One of the [full] members of the organization is against Turkey's admission to the organization,” a Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity has told Today's Zaman. Although Turkey hoped, after the signing of the memorandum, to get invited to the Bishkek summit, dialogue partners were not issued invitations

Given the fact that Turkey's position on the Syrian conflict is diametrically opposed to that of leading SCO members like Russia and China, Turkey's foreign policy choices may have had an effect on the SCO's attitude toward Turkey, analysts believe. In a sign of the organization's diplomatic priorities, Russian President Vladimir Putin met, at the 13th meeting of the council of SCO leaders in Bishkek, with Hassan Rohani, newly elected president of Iran, which has observer member status. “Russia may be opposing Turkey's higher status in the SCO because of the country's Syria policy,” Yaşar Yakış, a former foreign minister of Turkey, had previously told Today's Zaman.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey is seriously considering becoming a full member of the SCO, and Davutoğlu spoke enthusiastically about the organization at the signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding in Almaty -- though his face showed signs of tension, possibly caused by frustration at Turkey not being granted observer status.

“We declare our destiny to be the same as that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries,” Davutoğlu said at the press conference in Almaty in April. Noting that each SCO member country has its own reasons for not wanting Turkey to be granted a higher status, Bilhan said: “They don't believe Turkey is sincere in trying to knit closer ties with the SCO. Turkey needs to work to achieve more trust [in the region]. More frequent visits to the region should be made.”

China and Russia, although they officially seem to support giving Turkey higher status in the SCO, may be opposing Turkey's bid in an attempt to prevent Ankara from getting more closely involved in regional issues. Noting that Turkey's position on Syria is opposed to that of the SCO countries, Hasan Köni, professor of international law at İstanbul-based Kültür University, said: “Turkey is being seen [by SCO member countries] as a Trojan horse of the US, a man of NATO. This causes lack of confidence in Turkey.”

A few years ago, relations between Turkey and China seemed to have somewhat deteriorated after China violently crushed Uighur riots in China's Xinjiang province, where Muslim Uighurs with kinship ties with Turkey predominate. At the time, Erdoğan condemned the situation as “almost genocide.” Although the two countries have mended ties since and enjoy good relations at present, Erkin Ekrem, an Asia Pacific analyst from Hacettepe University, believes China is the SCO member country that is against Turkey obtaining a higher status in the organization.

“China is concerned about Turkey's membership, as Turkey is closely connected with the West,” Ekrem, who maintained that Russia and Kazakhstan have always supported Turkey's membership, has told Today's Zaman.

The SCO is a mutual-security organization that was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The countries, with the exception of Uzbekistan, had been members of the Shanghai Five, founded in 1996; after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001 the members renamed the organization. Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia are observer members in the SCO, while Sri Lanka and Belarus are the other two dialogue partners in the organization.