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Geopolitics of rare earths and potential role of Türkiye (Analysis)*

AA/Istanbul/Yunis Sharifli*

In recent years, we have observed the growing importance of critical materials that play a key role in the manufacturing process of various technologies. In this context, rare earth materials are crucial for the long-term viability of advanced technologies as they are essential in industries ranging from aviation to space exploration, from defense to biomedicine.

The West against China and Russia

The largest rare earth deposits are in China, and the fourth largest rare earth mineral reserves in the world are in Russia. These two countries represent 57% of the world’s known reserves of rare earths. China in particular plays a key role in the rare earth industry. China accounted for 58% of global production and 85% of rare earths refined in the world in 2020. Given the deterioration of relations of Western countries with China and Russia, these two countries may in the future use these materials as a means of pressure against Western countries. China’s ban on rare earth exports to Japan in 2010 and its announcement of restrictions on rare earth exports in December 2020 may be an example of this.

In recent years, Western countries have tried to diversify their imports and develop their reserves of rare earth materials in order to reduce their dependence on China and Russia. Last month, the UK, US and other Western allies announced the Minerals Security Partnership (MSP), an initiative to make the supply chain more ” safe”. As part of the diversification efforts, the massive reserves of rare earth elements recently discovered by Türkiye can play a vital role for Western countries.

The Türkiye discovered the second largest reserve

The Türkiye has discovered the second largest reserve of rare earth elements in the world in the district of Beylikova in Eskişehir in central Anatolia. The reserve is estimated at 694 million tonnes, overtaken by China which has the largest deposit of rare elements with 800 million tonnes. State mining company Eti Maden has announced that 1,200 tonnes of ore will be processed annually at the first-stage pilot plant. This figure could reach 570,000 tonnes, with a significant investment to be made in a larger industrial facility in the near future. Of the 17 known rare elements, ten can be processed in Türkiye.

The newly discovered rare earth reserves will have political, economic and security implications for Türkiye and its cooperation with Western countries. Politically, the newly discovered reserves increase the strategic importance of Türkiye and strengthen its position vis-à-vis the EU and the United States. Furthermore, cooperation with Türkiye can help EU countries to diversify their imports and reduce their dependence on Russia and China. Finally, collaboration between Türkiye and Western countries can promote interdependence, minimize the perception of threats, and create more fruitful conditions for cooperation in the rare earth industry.

Economic opportunities

In addition to political opportunities, there are also economic opportunities for Türkiye and its cooperation with Western countries. First, the development of the rare earth industry can promote the policy of economic diversification of Türkiye and lead to specialization in the extraction and transport of rare earths. Second, improving the rare earth sector can create a ripple effect that helps attract new investment and create jobs in the country.

Economic opportunities for EU countries can also promote cooperation with Türkiye. Ankara’s rare earth reserves are close to the surface, which means that their extraction will be easy and cheaper. With this new investment, EU countries can help Türkiye to build mining technology capacity in the short term and improve processing technology in the medium term. They can thus reduce their economic vulnerability to China, take advantage of the geographical proximity of Türkiye, diversify their imports and protect their technological and financial stability in the medium and long term.

In addition, with the cooperation of the EU and the United States, Türkiye can obtain technologies to reduce the environmental damage associated with the extraction of rare earths. In this way, rare earth elements can be appropriately managed, recycled and introduced into new production cycles without requiring new extractions from the ground. In general, cooperation between the EU and Türkiye in the field of rare earths can strengthen economic interdependence, create a mutually beneficial relationship and help reduce the effects of any external economic and political upheavals in the medium and long term. term.

Implications for the defense sector

Finally, newly discovered rare earths can play a vital role in the defense sector, both for Türkiye and for Western countries, as rare metals play a crucial role, from the production of drones to that of F-35s. The development of reserves helps Ankara decrease its dependence on other countries and can lead to self-sufficiency in rare earth materials. In addition, by cooperating with Türkiye, the EU and the United States can secure the supply chain and guarantee relative stability in their defense sector.

In summary, the newly discovered rare earths can play an important role for Türkiye and the West. In the short term, resource extraction will help Türkiye diversify its economy and give the EU and the United States the opportunity to diversify their imports and reduce their dependence on rival countries. In the medium to long term, Türkiye’s specialization in the rare earth industry in terms of developing technological capabilities and especially material processing could strengthen Ankara’s position in the global supply chain and create a chance to long-term sustainable cooperation with USA and EU.

*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

*The author is a junior researcher at the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (QAFSAM).

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