Turkey seeks to enhance ties with ASEAN amid COVID-19 economic woes

Turkey is paying more attention to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and seeking to enhance its relations with Southeast Asia amid the economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, experts said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently met with the Southeast Asian ambassadors in the capital Ankara and underlined the importance of enhancing relations with the ASEAN countries as part of Turkey’s Asia Anew initiative.

“We pay special attention to our relations with ASEAN, within the framework of Asia Anew,” Cavusoglu said, referring to an initiative launched in 2019.

Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam are the 10 members of the ASEAN group.

Ankara hopes to diversify ties with these countries in the fields of education, defense, trade, technology, culture, and political dialogue, according to Cavusoglu.

Turkey had been already experiencing economic duress before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic hit growth and spurred high inflation and unemployment amid a weakening currency, a widening current account deficit, and faltering foreign direct investment.

In the last decade, Turkey has been seeking to diversify its trade and political relations with different parts of the world other than its traditional Western commercial partners and allies.

The European Union and the United States are among Turkey’s largest economic partners, and the EU is a principal source of investments in Turkey.

Selcuk Colakoglu, director of the Ankara-based Turkish Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, said while Ankara’s willingness to open more toward Southeast Asian nations is praiseworthy, it should undertake a more comprehensive approach.

“Turkey’s goal should be to develop a sustainable relationship with ASEAN nations based on a reliable road map and improve the business networks it has established in the last decade with this organization,” Colakoglu added.

Regarding the business front, Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK) chairman Nail Olpak said his organization established an ASEAN working group to increase and balance the trade with the countries of the region.

“Through the activities of this group, we aim to create the perception of being a direct partner, not a sectoral dialogue partner, for the ASEAN countries and increase the effectiveness of the Turkish business world in the region,” Olpak said on Tuesday in an online meeting with journalists.

During the same meeting, Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said it is expected that the COVID-19 pandemic will be contained in 2021, and it would be “time to make breakthroughs toward Asia.”

“We are talking about a huge market where technological and innovative infrastructure is in rapid expansion, so it is high time to say Asia Anew,” Pekcan said, state-run Anadolu agency reported.

A Turkish source close to the government told Xinhua that Turkey’s partnership with ASEAN nations is not only based on commerce and economy, but also has “a very important political leg.”

“We think the Asian and Southeast Asian nations will shape the world in the years to come, so we turn upon them for a relationship based on mutual trust and benefits,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The ASEAN region has a population larger than the EU and has an exceptional potential on a multitude of platforms, the source noted.