Turkey has been increasingly strengthening its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in recent years as a sectoral dialogue partner. Experts welcomed the engagement with ASEAN, saying it is significant in diversifying the country's foreign policy perspective, given the political impasse with the EU and ongoing tensions with the United States.
Commenting on the increasing engagement of Turkey with ASEAN, Kadir Temiz, an academic from Istanbul Şehir University, said that "Turkey has been diversifying its foreign policy perspective which had so far focused on the European Union and the U.S."
Turkey's efforts to strengthen ties with diverse organizations and countries have often been mistakenly interpreted as a shift of axis that stems from the country's strained ties with the U.S. and its EU accession process, which reached an impasse.
Yet, Turkish officials underline that Turkey values its allies, and at the same time it aims to increase the number of its partners in the international arena. Ankara has been stressing that enhancing ties with a specific country does not necessarily mean giving up on its current allies.
In the case of ASEAN, Turkey considers it as a key organization in its region considering its combined economy, dynamic population and strategic location. However, Turkey's interest in the organization is not points to a shift but is a way of diversifying its allies.
"The member countries [of ASEAN] might support Turkey, as the country has been facing various regional problems such as the Cyprus issue," Temiz said adding that enhancing ties with member countries would further contribute to Turkey. He pointed out that the member countries have a welcoming approach toward Ankara.
ASEAN has an objective to form economic, political and socialcultural unity among its ten members, according to Temiz, who said that it is open to other countries' efforts to form social and economic ties.
Turkey applied to become a sectoral dialogue partner to ASEAN in 2015, its application was accepted on Aug. 5, 2017 during the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting held in the Philippines. Pakistan, Switzerland, and Norway are also sectoral dialogue partners of ASEAN along with Turkey.
The first ASEAN-Turkey-Singapore Trilateral Meeting was held yesterday in Singapore with the participation of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Common projects in the period ahead were discussed during the meeting. Çavuşoğlu also held high level meetings with his counterparts of the ASEAN member countries.
Bahadır Pehlivantürk, an academic from TOBB University said, " [the] ASEAN region has a population which is larger than the EU and increasing day by day. Previously, Turkey had not paid sufficient attention to this region. As Turkey had an opening to Africa, it should also have an ASEAN opening."
Becoming a sectoral dialogue partner last year, Turkey made significant preparations for various projects; now it has to fulfill its commitments in order to strengthen the trust between Turkey and ASEAN, Pehlivantürk said.
He stated that each of the ASEAN countries have a positive stance toward Turkey and added the enhancing ties would lead to more support for Turkey in multilateral platforms.
As Turkey is not part of the region it cannot become a full member of ASEAN. Yet, Turkey has applied to become a "dialogue partner," the highest level that can be formed with ASEAN outside the region.
In relation to Turkey's steps to further enhance ties, Temiz said that Turkey is approaching becoming a dialogue partner step by step. He said that "the main objective of Turkey is to attend East Asia Summits after becoming a dialogue partner, which would enable it to form ties with countries from that region."
Touching on future opportunities for Turkey, he said that there are developing member countries in ASEAN, and Turkey can contribute to their efforts, particularly in the field of construction.
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