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Why Erdogan’s Shanghai ambitions are risky business 

President Erdogan’s statement that NATO-member Turkey is targeting membership in the Shanghai club is more geared toward domestic consumption than reality, particularly after a top Russian diplomat said NATO and the SCO are incompatible. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ahead of his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Turkish President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled that NATO-member Turkey is targeting membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a platform dominated by Russia and China. Once in the United States, Erdogan repeated the same message in an interview with PBS NewsHour Monday. Asked by Judy Woodruff how Turkey could reconcile its possible membership in the SCO (an organization whose members include China, Russia and — as of 2023 — Iran) and NATO, Erdogan replied that Turkey positioned itself as a global — rather than a Western or an Eastern — power. “The European Union has kept us, a strong country, at its gates for 52 years,” he said. “It is natural that we are looking at other alternatives.” 

Despite recurrent debates on whether Ankara should — or could — be a member of the SCO, seasoned Turkey-watchers would remember that Erdogan’s road to Shanghai started as a joke. As Al-Monitor reported back in 2013, Erdogan first sounded out the possibility in a TV program on July 25, 2012. “Jokingly, I said to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, 'You goad us from time to time by saying what business do you have in the EU? So let me goad you this time. Admit us into the Shanghai Five (as the SCO was called when founded in 1996), and we will review our position on the EU,'” Erdogan said. 

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