Envoys from seven member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hailed the grouping’s historic relations with Turkey on Wednesday, highlighting their long-standing bilateral socio-cultural cooperation.
During a panel discussion titled “ASEAN as a Regional Organization and its Regional and Global Impact” at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, they detailed the historic relationship between the multi-regional bloc and Turkey and expressed hope that economic, social and cultural relations would be taken to the next level.
Vietnamese Ambassador to Ankara Tran Quang Tuyen said Turkey established ties with ASEAN in 1999 and opened embassies in all 10 member states thereafter.
Seven ASEAN member states have embassies in Turkey, which form the ASEAN Ankara Committee (AAC).
Tuyen said 300,000 people from ASEAN countries visited Turkey as tourists in 2018 while 60,000 Turks visited ASEAN countries the same year.
Turkish Airlines runs direct flights to six ASEAN countries.
He noted that the economic and trade volume between ASEAN countries and Turkey reached close to $10 billion in 2017.
Tuyen also revealed that Turkey has awarded student scholarships to 1,619 students from ASEAN countries since 2010.
“Turkey has long-standing bilateral socio-cultural cooperation with ASEAN member states,” he stressed.
He said the two sides have major potential in many areas of trade, the defense industry, tourism, agriculture, research and development and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
“In terms of trade, both sides have comparative advantages that should be turned into win-win trade exchanges,” he added.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) invested around $147 million in ASEAN between 2005 and 2015.
Explaining the idea behind ASEAN’s establishment, Thailand’s ambassador to Turkey Phantipha Iamsudha Ekarohit said its member states focus on economic, social and cultural cooperation as well as technical and educational development.
ASEAN was formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in Bangkok and was later joined by five other countries.
Ekarohit said Thailand’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2019 prioritizes enhancing connectivity and sustainability among member countries.
Jonathan Tow, Singapore’s ambassador to Turkey, said 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“Interestingly, Turkey and Singapore’s diplomatic relations [actually] date back to Ottoman times, when in 1905, the empire sent its first representative to Singapore,” he said.
Achieving success through ‘consent and consultation’
Enrique Voltaire Pingol, the Philippines’ charge d’Affaires, said ASEAN countries “agree to disagree”.
Pingol stressed that ASEAN has a principle of “consent and consultation”, adding its motto is “one vision, one identity, one community”.
Shafiee Kassim, Brunei’s ambassador to Turkey, said ASEAN’s success depends on the principle of non-interference.
Kassim said countries in ASEAN “do not criticize each other”, adding this promotes peace and security in the region.
“We do not have a common foreign policy,” he said. “We have to agree to move forward as one.”
Echoing Kassim, Ekarohit said ASEAN members act through consensus.
“If there was no consensus, we would not be here…We did not leave anyone [member] behind,” she added.
Responding to a question on whether Bangkok would take a lesson from Manila on resolving issues in Thailand’s troubled southern region, Ekarohit said: “We study different cases across the world and we learn…[but] we are a different country with a different culture and politics and we have to see what is applicable and useful to us.”
Thailand is facing a decades-long insurgency in its south, where Muslim groups are seeking independence or greater autonomy.
Last month, the Philippine government granted regional autonomy to ethnic Moro Muslims who have formed an independent administration to run affairs in the Moro-dominated region.
Malaysian envoy Dato’ Abd Razak Abdul Wahab said ASEAN members “agree to move forward for the benefit of our people”.
Wahab said that even though ASEAN member states have political, social, religious and linguistic differences, “we believe in what has been laid down by our forefathers and move forward [on it]”.
India – Pakistan conflict
Turning to the recent escalation of the conflict between India and Pakistan, Tuyen said ASEAN wishes “for all conflicts to be resolved in a peaceful manner, and we want the two countries to sit down at the negotiating table”.
He said India and Pakistan need to talk and not engage in a military conflict.