Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in New York on Sunday to participate in the 78th United Nations General Assembly. During the visit, he is also set to hold a series of meetings with world leaders and influential entrepreneurs. One of the meetings garnering significant attention was the one between President Erdoğan and Elon Musk, the renowned founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
The key meeting took place at New York’s iconic Turkish House (Türkevi), where President Erdoğan briefed Musk on some of the most crucial technological advancements in Türkiye. Additionally, they also engaged in a discussion on the visionary ‘Digital Türkiye’ technological initiative and the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which was unveiled two years ago.
The meeting delved into three primary areas of technological development: air, land, and space. They hold immense significance in terms of implementing cutting-edge technologies, notably artificial intelligence (AI), where Türkiye is striving to attain technological advantages.
In recent years, Türkiye has emerged as a prominent player in the field of high technology, particularly in the domain of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). This rise can be largely attributed to the remarkable success of Turkish-made drones like the TB2, which have demonstrated their capabilities in international conflicts in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Libya.
During the meeting, President Erdoğan highlighted Türkiye’s achievements in this sector. It came as no surprise when Musk expressed his familiarity with Türkiye’s accomplishments and the global interest in such technology. The Turkish president also extended an invitation to Musk to participate in Türkiye’s flagship technology event Teknofest, scheduled to be held in İzmir by the end of September. According to multiple sources, Musk has positively responded to the invitation.
Another significant topic of discussion at the meeting centered around electric vehicles, with both Türkiye’s indigenous TOGG and Tesla’s electric cars having entered the Turkish market recently.
President Erdoğan urged Tesla to consider Türkiye as the location for its seventh manufacturing facility. Currently, Tesla has factories in California, Nevada, New York, Shanghai, Berlin-Brandenburg, and Texas. According to sources, Musk was open to the proposal, indicating that Türkiye holds a prominent position among potential locations for the next Tesla factory.
Finally, President Erdoğan and Musk explored the potential for collaboration in the fields of AI and Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite internet venture – a topic that Musk had expressed interest in discussing.
Understanding the Importance of the Meeting
The meeting between President Erdoğan and Elon Musk held immense significance for both Türkiye and Musk, a prominent representative of one of the world’s leading tech giants. In fact, we can delineate the significance of this meeting in three distinct dimensions.
First and foremost, President Erdoğan’s consultation with a prominent global tech innovator like Musk signifies Türkiye’s steadfast commitment to advancing its technological landscape. The country has embarked on several ambitious initiatives, notably the National Technology Move, demonstrating the determination to secure a technological advantage on the global stage by relying on national production and opposing the existing technological monopoly. These endeavors reflect Türkiye’s recognition of technology, particularly in the domain of AI, as a pivotal factor in shaping contemporary global power dynamics. By actively pursuing enhanced technological cooperation with big tech companies, Türkiye underscores its proactive approach to fortify its position in the international arena.
Another important aspect of the meeting was President Erdoğan’s deliberate choice to engage with the leader of a major tech corporation. It assumes greater significance when we consider the ongoing debate over whether states or big tech companies exert primary control and influence in the unfolding technological revolution. While expert opinions vary on this matter, the undeniable power wielded by these tech giants in driving the technological revolution cannot be ignored. President Erdoğan appears to recognize this reality and rather than attempting to counter these companies, seeks to harness their influence and integrate them into Türkiye’s technological vision.
Furthermore, this meeting represented an extension of the concept known as ‘leader diplomacy,’ which has become a pivotal component of Türkiye’s foreign policy. Meeting with Elon Musk reflects the evolving nature of the international system, where states are no longer the sole actors on the global stage but new actors, such as big tech companies are gaining more power in terms of international affairs. Indeed, it can be argued that this aligns with President Erdoğan’s long-standing critique of the existing international system and his calls for reform, particularly within the framework of the United Nations.
It is worth noting that President Erdoğan and Elon Musk have previously held several meetings, both in person and virtually, underscoring the amicable rapport between them. Musk’s participation in this meeting, accompanied by his son, lends an informal and friendly tone, departing from the typical formality of such encounters. Importantly, these direct interactions between Erdoğan and Musk have resulted in various collaborations between Türkiye and SpaceX, including the 2021 launch of Türkiye’s Turksat 5B communications satellite.
The Significance of Erdoğan-Musk Meeting
The extensive media attention garnered by this meeting is a direct reflection of its profound importance and significance. Notably, the potential for collaboration between Türkiye and SpaceX is extensive. Primarily, such a partnership could catalyze technological advancements within Türkiye, particularly in space technology, aligning with its aspirations to assume a pivotal role in this domain.
For instance, a potential agreement on Starlink would yield mutual benefits. SpaceX would experience an expansion of its revenues, market reach, and global influence, while Türkiye would witness economic growth and enjoy enhanced connectivity, especially during natural disasters or infrastructure disruptions. Additionally, the prospect of hosting part of the Starlink network or collaborating on other space-related projects would position any state at the forefront of space technology and industry.
Beyond the technological gains, a collaboration between Türkiye, SpaceX, and Tesla would have a substantial economic impact. It can attract investments and generate employment, a prospect that becomes even more pronounced if Musk decides to establish the next Tesla factory in Türkiye, a decision expected by the end of 2023.
Furthermore, within the ongoing global race, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, states vie for prominent positions in the international hierarchy. Collaboration with SpaceX could enable Türkiye to maintain a technological edge over regional and global competitors, especially as it engages in a constant and unavoidable technological rivalry.
Notably, Musk’s scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this week also focused on artificial intelligence. It underscores the importance of staying ahead in this race given Türkiye and Israel are the two most technologically advanced states in the region, especially in the defense sector. Consequently, Türkiye must strive to outpace its technological rivals to safeguard its national interests.
In essence, the significance of the Erdoğan-Musk meeting extends far beyond its immediate implications, encompassing technological, economic and strategic dimensions, all of which have the potential to shape the trajectory of Türkiye as well as SpaceX and Tesla.