Wilfrido Villacorta, the former deputy secretary-general of the Association is Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has welcomed Turkey's engagement with ASEAN, stressing that the aspirations of Turkey and ASEAN converge on many issues.
Since Turkey has become a sectoral dialogue partner for ASEAN in August, the future of relations has been discussed in an international conference titled, "Potentials of Turkey's Sectoral Dialogue Partnership of ASEAN," on Oct. 3, held by the Foreign Ministry in collaboration with the Turkish Coordination Agency (TİKA) and the Center for Strategic Research (SAM).
Underlining that the first World Humanitarian Summit was hosted by Turkey in 2016, Villacorta said this shows Turkey's commitment to peace and development, which ASEAN appreciates. The former ambassador said that as the chair of the association this year, the Philippines hosted the 50th anniversary of ASEAN in August when Turkey became ASEAN's fourth sectoral dialogue partner.
"Turkey and ASEAN converge on matters such as national interest, cultural values and aspirations," Villacorta said.
In the opening session, Stratejik Araştırma Merkezi (SAM) head Mesut Özcan pointed to Turkey's efforts to increase dialogue in Southeast Asia as it has recently become a dialogue partner for ASEAN in line with this policy. Turkish Ambassador Ümit Yardım said ASEAN is a success story, bringing peace to its region for half century.
Villacorta underscored that ASEAN is a grouping of 10 member states that value their independence and sovereignty, all of which suffered domination by colonial powers.
ASEAN is not a military organization. Throughout its 50 years, there have been no major armed conflicts among member states, Villacorta said. "The group is committed to peace and stability and it has contributed to the regional stability by building much needed norms," Villacorta said.
Villacorta underscored that Turkey has expressed its plan to engage with ASEAN in areas such as public-private partnership, e-commerce, contracting, technical consultancy services, tourism and agriculture and livestock.
He underlined tourism as an area that requires further cooperation and added that Turkey is the sixth most visited country worldwide. Commenting on the criticism directed at Turkey and ASEAN on various issues, Villacorta said, referring to a Turkish proverb, those who are good and talented are the most criticized.
Speaking at the conference, Singaporean Ambassador A. Selverajah said there is great potential in developing relations with Turkey, adding that the recent high-level visits from Turkey contributed to the strengthening of ties. ASEAN has three essential pillars - political, economic and social, cultural - and it aims to improve the quality of life, and create an inclusive society – these are the goals of Turkey as well, he said. Selverajah stated that Singapore is committed to work with Turkey to achieve its action plan in 2018.
Bahadır Pehlivantürk, an academic from TOBB University, said at the conference that Turkey's relations with Southeast Asia are centuries old, giving the example of the Ertuğrul Frigate that visited Japan, stopping at various places, including Singapore.
Pehlivantürk said Turkey's recent initiatives in Southeast Asia added new dimension to its relations as it became a central dialogue partner and has been ASEAN meetings as a special guest since 2013.
Pehlivantürk stressed the commonalities between Turkey and ASEAN, saying that their views on the world order are similar. The international grouping consists of middle-tier countries, as is Turkey. ASEAN member states have come together to set their agenda, added Pehlivantürk.
Referencing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rhetoric that "the world is bigger than five," Pehlivantürk underscored that Turkey does not envision a world order of great powers, but one that is rule-based. He added that Turkey favors a multiplex world in which middle-tier countries can be more influential.