Our new foreign policy target: The ‘Shanghai Five’

Our new foreign policy target: The ‘Shanghai Five’

With Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s expressing Turkey’s intention to join the Shanghai Five on a talk show on Kanal 24 the evening of Jan. 25, the question of whether he is turning his face to the East has emerged.

The Shanghai Five was formed in 1996 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – later in 2001 to be renamed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with the inclusion of Uzbekistan – and has become an international alliance influencing world politics.

Afghanistan, Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan have joined as “observers” in this organization, which is trying to develop cooperation mechanisms in defense, security and economy. Turkey, on the other hand, has “dialogue partner” status in this organization along with Belarus and Sri Lanka. However, Erdoğan’s words imply that it is desired that this status be upgraded to membership.

During his Germany trip last November, Erdoğan referred to a joke he had told Putin earlier that went “You include us in the Shanghai Five, and we will give up on the EU,” and he added, “This stance of the EU cannot continue forever. At some point they will reach a stage where they will lose Turkey.”

As you can see, in his statements Erdoğan is giving his message through teasing and jokes. However, when we review Erdoğan’s latest interview, we can see that the joke is over now and it is becoming serious.

We should first look at in which context the prime minister made this statement. Erdoğan is speaking with the mindset that he has been convinced to a huge extent that the EU will not accept Turkey’s full membership. Next, he has said, “Indeed, when this proceeds negatively, then as the prime minister of 75 million, you start becoming engaged in other searches.” When the prime minister compared the EU and the SCO, he said, “The Shanghai Five is better, much more powerful, much better…”

Upon the question, “Why do you wait for the EU to divorce you? Let us file for divorce,” the prime minister pointed out that there were established relations with the EU that yielded returns and stated, “It would not be correct to take such a step without preparing an alternative.”

Then he referred to the advancement of relations with Middle Eastern and African countries, saying, “There, these should continue. There should be a full preparation, all the stones should be in place,” when defining the preparation process before the step of divorce.

These words of Erdoğan demonstrate that he also considers the “common values” dimension of the deal: “We told them we would join. We told them, ‘If you summon us, we will come.’ Pakistan and India also want us. They demand it; we will all see together. In terms of population, it would exceed them [the EU]. Also, we would have the opportunity to be together with countries we share common values with.”

With these words of his, the prime minister has actually declared a very basic preference in a strategic and philosophical context on where he sees the position and future of Turkey in the world. We should note that this proclamation of Erdoğan is one of the most significant foreign policy moves since he took office 10 years ago, maybe the most important.

When he was leaving the “National Vision” movement, he had declared that he had adopted full membership in the EU as target. This was an important fracture, but his last move on the “Shanghai Five” is another major fracture in the opposite direction of Erdoğan’s political line.

Is this a bluff for the EU or is this a genuine declaration of intention? Or maybe both of them, in order to hit two birds with one stone?

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Jan 29. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.