China says would consider Turkey membership in Shanghai Pact

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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 on Monday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his country might join.

China, Russia and four Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

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

China attaches great importance to Turkey’s desire to strengthen that cooperation, he told a daily news briefing.

“We are willing, together with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and in accordance with the rules of its legal documents, to seriously study it on the basis of consensus consultation,” Geng added, without elaborating.

Erdoğan was quoted on Sunday saying that Turkey did not need to join the European Union “at all costs” and could instead become part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

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 freedoms, European leaders were alarmed by Erdoğan’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.

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.

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