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Turkey Seeks to Be First NATO Member to Join China-Led SCO

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/18/2022 Baris Balci and Selcan Hacaoglu
Tayyip Erdogan © Bloomberg Tayyip Erdogan

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey is seeking membership to the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempts to forge alliances with friendly countries in the East.

Erdogan made the announcement after attending the SCO summit in Uzbekistan on Friday where he held talks with leaders including China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A successful bid would make Turkey the first member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the bloc.

“Our relationship with these countries will be moved to a much different position with this step,” Erdogan said about the SCO when he spoke with reporters in the city of Samarkand where the summit was held, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu. 

His remarks on Turkey’s potential bid to join the SCO came as Erdogan sought, but could not yet secure, a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington after this week’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, according to people familiar with the matter. The two may still meet during the UN meeting in NY.

“What Ankara is doing is not pursuing alternatives to the West, but establishing balanced relations with all over the world,” Cagri Erhan, a professor of international relations who is also a member of the Turkish president’s security advisory board, said on Twitter. “It also aims to help the West to see more clearly who its interlocutor is in its relations” with Turkey, he said.

There was no immediate reaction from the US government or NATO on Turkey’s bid for SCO membership. 

Turkey has been affiliated with the SCO since 2013, when it signed a partnership agreement. Full membership of the bloc would give Erdogan renewed leverage against the West and the prospect of stronger economic ties as the government attempts to stabilize a troubled economy ahead of next year’s election. Apart from Russia and China, the eight-member SCO also includes India, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

Read more: Erdogan seeks out Russian help for economy under pressure

(Updates with quote in fifth paragraph)

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