Asia is an immense continent that contains dozens of countries, billions of people with the current population of over 4 billion and the largest Muslim population on earth. Nearly two-thirds or 62 percent of the world's Muslims live here in the Asia-Pacific region, which amounts to around 1 billion Muslims. The population of Asia makes up approximately 60 percent of the total world population.
The most populated countries are China and India, respectively, while the largest Muslim population is in Indonesia with over 200 million. India has the world's second-largest Muslim population with roughly 176 million, though Muslims constitute around 15 percent of India's total population. Moreover, there are other vastly populous countries such as Malaysia with over 30 million residents, Philippines with over 100 million, Thailand with around 70 million and Brunei with around 500,000.
In the economic field, the fastest growing countries are in Asia. For example, two of the three largest economies in the world are Asian countries, namely China and Japan. The expected economic growth for China in 2019 is 6.3 percent while Japan's economy is expected to grow by approximately 1 percent in 2019.
There are numerous organizations and alliances in the continent. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is one of them and an important regional union that consists of 10 Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Brunei. The gross domestic product of the ASEAN is expected to grow by 4.9 percent in 2019 and 4.8 percent in 2020.
The expected rates of economic growth are 5.2 percent in 2019 and 2020 for Indonesia, 4.7 percent in 2019 and 4.4 percent in 2020 for Malaysia, 3.8 percent in 2019 and 3.5 percent in 2020 for Thailand, while 6.4 percent in 2019 and 6.3 percent in 2020 for the Philippines.
The Philippines and Indonesia are expected to be among the largest economies – the 16th and 17th in the world – by 2050 while Malaysia and Thailand have been predicted to make it into the top 50 economies. Therefore, it is significant for a country to revive its relations with these growing economies.
ASEAN is at the center of Turkish economic foreign policy toward Asia. The most important reason behind this is that the ASEAN may be a door to the rest of Asia for Turkey. Turkey became a sectoral dialogue partner within ASEAN in 2017 with the goal of increasing cooperation with ASEAN countries.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was in Singapore to attend the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in 2018. During this visit, Çavuşoğlu held numerous meetings with his counterparts and had discussions on a wide range of issues from security to economy and trade.
However, Turkey is still far from its expected-level of ties with the region politically, economically and culturally, but especially economically, even tough Turkey has endeavored to improve its relations with the region since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took power in 2003.
Turkey should not ignore Asian countries or not limit itself from having further relations in all fields with Asia. Turkey should cooperate more with friendlier Asian nations while keeping up on learning from China and Japan's historical development processes in terms of economy, education, reforms, technology and so on.
Turkey can also accelerate its own development by adapting similar methods that the Chinese and Japanese have gone through. Turkey should read Asian countries one by one rather than seeing them as one.
For instance, Malaysia may become an option for cooperation on technology-sharing, while Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand may be beneficial for both nations' businessmen in other sectors such as services, tourism and for Turkish-branded technologies like phones, fridges and so on. Japan might be lucrative for Turkey's education standards as Turkey may serve as a source of labor for Japan's future.
* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia