When Turkey became a "dialogue partner" of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the SCO was a viable alternative to the European Union, it made a lot of waves and renewed speculation about what this meant with respect to Turkey's geopolitical drift to the East. As a result of last week's SCO summit in Bishkek, it looks like the answer to that last question is: not much.
It turns out that Turkey wasn't even invited to participate in the summit, according to a report in Today's Zaman. The report talks to a number of Turkish foreign policy analysts who point out that Turkey's foreign policies conflict in some pretty substantial ways with those of the SCO.
To take China, the SCO's dominant member, there is the question of Xinjiang, home of the restive minority Uyghur population, with which Turkey shares many language and cultural ties. While China has made it quite clear that among the top security goals of the SCO is to clamp down on Uyghur political activities in Central Asia, Erdogan has at times sharply criticized Beijing for its treatment of the Uyghurs.
And as for Russia, the second most influential member of the SCO, there is the question of Syria. Syria isn't exactly a core focus of the SCO, but it is Moscow's highest foreign policy priority of the moment. And given that much attention at the last summit was given to Syria, and that Russia and Turkey represent perhaps the farthest apart poles on the world spectrum of opinion on what to do in Syria, any Turkish presence in Bishkek would have been pretty awkward.
All of this should have been fairly obvious in Ankara when Turkey sought SCO membership. But as one perceptive Wikileaks cable from 2010 put it, Turkey's foreign policy has consisted "mainly of popular slogans, ceaseless trips, and innumerable signatures on MOUs of little importance" while ignoring the need "to produce results, take risks, commit real resources, and take hard decisions." That emphasis on symbolism over reality seems to be what's operating with Turkey's SCO ambitions, which now look pretty dim.