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Erdoğan’s priorities for Turkey at the G20 Summit

Article by Emre Caliskan

September 6, 2023

Erdoğan’s priorities for Turkey at the G20 Summit

In recent years, Turkey has used G20 meetings as part of its ‘the World is Bigger than Five’ campaign launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to criticise the structure of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Under Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has been trying to pursue a more independent and active foreign policy. However, this approach is sometimes at odds with the interests of the Western-based international system and the goals of the UNSC. Nevertheless, Erdoğan wants the G20 to play a more active role in global problems. 


At previous G20 meetings, Erdoğan has drawn attention to inequalities within global politics and surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, Turkey hosted the Least Developing Countries meetings during its G20 presidency in 2015, allowing Erdoğan to send the message that Turkey represents developing countries.


Erdoğan’s other key priorities at previous G20 meetings have included global terrorism and drawing international attention to Turkey’s domestic terrorism problems. For instance, following the coup attempt in 2016, Erdoğan asked G20 leaders to support Turkey’s fight against the Gulen movement, an organisation Turkey blames for the attempted coup. In recent G20 meetings, Erdoğan has focused on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its activities in Iraq and Syria. This gained traction in 2022, when the G20 meeting took place immediately after the PKK attack in Istanbul, which killed eight people and injured over 80 people.


The G20 also provides an important platform for Erdoğan to meet with world leaders and solve Turkey’s bilateral problems. Erdoğan uses these meetings to boost his personal global image and popularity in Turkey. For instance, US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both of whom have had troubled relations with Erdoğan, have nevertheless met with him at G20 meetings.


Erdoğan is likely to have three main topics on his agenda at this year’s G20 meeting. Firstly, he is expected to tell world leaders about Turkey’s increasing role in the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, from the grain deal to the prisoner exchange agreement. Secondly, he is likely to talk about Turkey’s role in preventing the influx of refugees into Europe. Thirdly, and most importantly, Erdoğan, who has fallen on hard economic times at home, is trying to repair Turkey’s foreign relations, especially with the West, after his third presidential election victory in May, which extended his 21-year rule for another five years. Erdoğan is also likely to call on G20 leaders to invest more in the Turkish economy.


One of Erdoğan’s important allies at the G20 summit will be the UK. Concerned about Turkey’s growing rapprochement with Russia and China, the UK is trying to support Turkey economically, politically and militarily. Following its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia, Turkey became subjected to the United States’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which imposed sanctions on Turkey and later resulted in Turkey being kicked out of the F-35 fighter programme. The UK, on the other hand, supports Turkey’s F-16 modernisation agenda alongside the US, and is prepared to sell Eurofighters to Turkey. Additionally, the UK continues to make significant investments in Turkey’s infrastructure. For example, UK Export Finance (UKEF), the UK Government’s export credit agency, has recently given Turkey a 867 million USD loan for a new high-speed electric railway. Moreover, in 2022, the UK approved its biggest-ever civil infrastructure export finance deal, for 2.3 billion USD, to underwrite a high-speed rail line between the Turkish capital Ankara and the port of Izmir.


Emre Caliskan is a political analyst and freelance consultant who previously worked for IHS Markit, now as part of S&P. As a former journalist, he worked for the BBC Turkish Service, Cumhuriyet, and the Turkish public broadcaster TRT, as a foreign correspondent based in Ankara, Damascus, Beijing and London. Emre is a co-author, with Simon A Waldman, of, “The New Turkey and Its Discontents” (Hurst and Co and Oxford University Press: 2017). He is currently completing his PhD in International Relations at University of Oxford. He is also a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre.

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