China open to Turkey joining security bloc

Erdogan says his country could join Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as EU prospects dim

BEIJING • China is willing to consider any application from Nato member Turkey to join a Russian- and Chinese-led security bloc, China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country could join.

China, Russia and four Central Asian nations - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan. The SCO conducts multilateral cooperation between member states on national security, the military, economy and culture.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Turkey is already a dialogue partner of the bloc and has closely cooperated with it for a long time, which China appreciates.

China attaches great importance to Turkey's wish to strengthen that cooperation, he told a daily news briefing. "We are willing, together with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and in accordance with the rules of its legal documents, to seriously study it on the basis of consensus consultation," Mr Geng added, without elaborating.

Mr Erdogan was quoted on Sunday as saying that Turkey did not need to join the European Union "at all costs" and could, instead, become part of the SCO.

On his way back from an official visit to Pakistan and Uzbekistan, Mr Erdogan said that Turkey should feel relaxed about the EU bid and should not forget that there are alternatives to the bloc, Daily Sabah reported.

He said he had already discussed the idea with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Turkish membership of the bloc would be likely to alarm Western allies and fellow Nato members.

Having long been critical of Turkey's record on democratic freedom, European leaders were alarmed by Mr Erdogan's crackdown on opponents since a failed coup attempt in July, and Turkey's prospects of joining the EU look more remote than ever after 11 years of negotiations.

Ankara said it had not received enough support from its EU allies, while Brussels criticised the Turkish government's crackdown on alleged coup plotters, urging Ankara to comply with the EU's rights and freedoms criteria.

The EU is treading a fine line as it needs Turkey's help in curbing a huge flow of migrants, especially from Syria, while Ankara has grown increasingly exasperated by what it sees as Western condescension.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan speak Turkic languages, and Ankara signed up in 2013 as a "dialogue partner", saying it shared "the same destiny" as members of the bloc. Mongolia, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are observers, while Belarus, like Turkey, is a dialogue partner.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'China open to Turkey joining security bloc'. Print Edition | Subscribe