Asia Economics and Business

Asia is second only to Africa’s poorest continent. However, the contrasts are very large between different states in terms of commodity resources, the breadth of business, economic growth rate and prosperity. Most striking is the poverty of war-torn states, small agricultural-dominated inland states and extremely densely populated agricultural areas. Most states experienced economic growth during the years 1985–95. A clear exception is the eight states of Central Asia and the Caucasus which until 1991 were part of the Soviet Union. In 1985-95, they showed an annual decline in GDP per capita of between 4% (Uzbekistan) and 17% (Georgia). Several of them can now be counted among A’s poorest states.

Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam are among the world’s fifteen poorest countries, with a per capita GDP of less than US $ 250 (1995). Check Countryaah for more. Furthermore, among the sixty poorest countries (low-income countries), there are states in southern Asia (Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), where per capita GDP in 1995 was US $ 340-700 and annual growth during the period 1985-95 was 1.5 –4%. The same group also includes Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos and Mongolia, and especially China, which in 1995 had a GDP per capita of US $ 620, after a ten-year period with the second fastest economic growth in Asia, 8% per year.


Among the middle-income countries are the major states of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia). They have larger commodity resources than the poorer neighboring states and export both agricultural and mineral products and processed products thereof. In 1995, it had a per capita GDP of US $ 900–4,000 after annual growth of between 1.5% per year (Philippines) and 8.4% (Thailand) during the period 1985–95. Countries at this level also include a heterogeneous group of states in the Middle East, such as Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, with slower economic growth.

Middle-income countries at a higher level (US $ 4,700–17,400) are the oil producing states around the Persian Gulf. The largest oil exporters showed a stagnation or decline in the economy in 1985–95. Rapid economic growth over several decades has led to the new industrialized states of South Korea (GDP per capita 1995: US $ 9,700), Taiwan (US $ 12,400) and Singapore (US $ 26,730) now belonging to the world’s high-income countries, while Japan (US $ 39,640) has long been one of the world’s richest countries. During the 1990s, Singapore, like the former British colony of Hong Kong, became an important international center for business management as well as banking and finance.

Thus, until the summer of 1997, the vast majority of states in South, Southeast and East Asia showed stable economic growth. Food production per capita also increased, contrary to what has happened in a number of states in Africa. The financial crisis that then appeared, beginning in Thailand, has had a major impact in several countries, first in Southeast Asia (mainly in Indonesia) and six months later also in South Korea and Japan. In 1998, several countries experienced a stagnation or decline in the economy, more and more corporate and bankruptcies, increasingly weaker currencies and rising unemployment.

Asia’s population increases by about 55 million. per year, and the need for food grows in proportion to the increase in population. However, an even faster increase in agricultural production is required, as the nutrient intake in some states is very low. Agriculture is still the main industry in many states in Asia and employs more than half the population of most states in South and Southeast Asia as well as in China. In contrast, agriculture accounts for a smaller proportion of employment in Japan and in the new industrial states, as well as in southwestern Asia, where only limited areas are suitable for cultivation. In all countries, agriculture’s share of employment has decreased in recent years.

Slightly more than 16% of Asia’s area (Russian Federation not included) is used as a field, while pasture occupies about 30%. During the 1950s, extensive new cultivation began in Soviet Central Asia, mainly in Kazakhstan, which yielded significantly larger wheat areas. New land has also been obtained elsewhere, mainly through dredging and irrigation, but overall, the area of land in Asia – apart from the former Soviet part – has increased by only a few percent. Now 70% of the world’s artificial irrigation area is located in Asia. Artificial irrigation has made it possible to harvest two crops a year in many areas from the Middle East to Japan and has also increased the area yield. In a number of countries, since the mid-1960s, new, high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat have begun to grow. As a result, grain production has increased significantly in e.g. India, Pakistan, Taiwan and China. However, the new varieties require much more water and nutrients, and it is therefore mainly the more well-off farmers who have been able to transition to the new crops. For rural poor, conditions have deteriorated in many places in South and Southeast Asia, as prices have often changed to their disadvantage. This has contributed to a migration of people into the cities and to a growing urban slum.

During the years 1946–58 major land reforms were implemented in Asia. Small family farming thus became the dominant form of ownership in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, while collectivisation according to the Soviet pattern was gradually carried out in China, North Korea and North Vietnam. Elsewhere, a fairer distribution of land has been sought, for example. in Iran and the Philippines, but the reforms there have been less successful. In China, in the 1980s, the responsibility for use went to individual households, and the prices of agricultural products gradually became market-adjusted rather than centrally determined. However, the land is still collectively owned. In most states, there are major economic and social differences in rural areas. In Asia’s densely populated rural areas, the farms are small, in Japan and Taiwan as well as Java on average less than one hectare. As labor supply has been good in rural areas and small farmers lack capital, Asian agriculture is usually poorly mechanized. Exceptions are the Russian collective farms as well as the plantations in Southeast Asia and the family farms in the industrial states.

Self-catering is still considered in some places, and farming methods are often outdated. Market-oriented agriculture can be found both in the vicinity of cities and in areas where export crops are invested, mainly in Southeast Asia. Rice is the dominant grain species in South and Southeast Asia’s river valleys and coastal regions, in southeastern China as well as in Japan, the Philippines and Java. In Asia, more than 90% of all rice is grown in the world, and China accounts for 1/3 of that. Area yields vary greatly. It is more than three times larger in South Korea, China and Japan than in the Central Asian countries and in the South and Southeast Asian countries. Wheat is the most important grain type in northern and central China, in parts of India, in the river valleys in southwestern Asia and in southwestern Siberia. Millet, corn and barley are also grown to a significant extent. In recent years, the production of cereals and vegetables has increased at about the same rate as the population of Asia as a whole, but the differences are very large between the countries. Of the cereal trade in the world market in 1997, Asia accounted for 47% of imports and 11% of exports. Large and growing import needs, especially Japan and South Korea. Within the next decade, China is also likely to become a major importing country for grain.

Asia is a world leader in a range of important agricultural products and accounts for about 95% of all natural rubber, jute and silk production. In Asia, more than 80% of world production is made of copra, tea and palm oil, more than 60% in cotton, tobacco and dates. Furthermore, a lot of peanuts and cane sugar and spices are grown, mainly in the Southeast Asian island world, and southern fruits, both on the Mediterranean coast and in Central Asia and in southern Japan.

Livestock management has a long tradition in the arid areas from the Mediterranean coast to Mongolia and has been run by predominantly nomads with herds of cattle, sheep, goats and camels, also in the highlands of Central Asia. Nowadays, almost all livestock breeding is stationary, and in most countries the nomads make up only one percent of the population. Most important is livestock breeding in Mongolia, where 1/3 of all households devote themselves to it. In Asia’s densely populated parts, the fields are very rarely used for fodder plants. Poor supply of feed means that Asian livestock are generally extremely productive and of little importance to food supply. From sheep and goats materials are obtained to leather goods and carpets, eg. in Pakistan, Iran and the states of Central Asia. In Asia there are 1/3 of the world’s cattle and sheep and more than 3/5 of the goats.


Forests cover close to 30% of Asia’s area, but it is harvested at a rapid rate. Until around 1980, however, forest area was scarcely reduced, as large forest plantation projects were underway, among other things. In China. Subsequently, the situation has become more serious, and the forest area is falling sharply, especially in South and Southeast Asia. In many places, forestry actually means a one-off harvest of forest. After harvesting follows soil erosion and other soil degradation, which can make regrowth impossible.

Asian Countries

Country GDP growth (percent) GDP per person (US dollar)
Afghanistan 2.9 (2019) 521 (2018)
Bahrain 1.8 (2019) 24,051 (2018)
Bangladesh 8.2 (2019) 1 698 (2018)
Bhutan 3.0 (2018) 3 360 (2018)
Brunei 3.9 (2019) 31 628 (2018)
Burma 2.9 (2019) 1,326 (2018)
Philippines 6.0 (2019) 3 103 (2018)
United Arab Emirates 1.7 (2019) 43 005 (2018)
India 5.0 (2019) 2 016 (2018)
Indonesia 5.0 (2019) 3,894 (2018)
Iraq 4.4 (2019) 5,878 (2018)
Iran 3.8 (2017) 5,628 (2017)
Israel 3.5 (2019) 41 614 (2018)
Japan 0.7 (2019) 39 287 (2018)
Yemen 0.8 (2018) 944 (2018)
Jordan 2.0 (2019) 4 248 (2018)
Cambodia 7.1 (2019) 1,512 (2018)
Kazakhstan 4.5 (2019) 9 331 (2018)
China 6.1 (2019) 9 771 (2018)
Kyrgyzstan 4.5 (2019) 1,281 (2018)
Kuwait 0.4 (2019) 34 244 (2018)
Laos 4.7 (2019) 2,568 (2018)
Lebanon -5.6 (2019) 8 270 (2018)
Malaysia 4.3 (2019) 11 239 (2018)
Maldives 5.2 (2019) 10 224 (2018)
Mongolia 5.1 (2019) 4 104 (2018)
Nepal 7.0 (2019) 1,026 (2018)
North Korea
Oman 0.5 (2019) 16 419 (2018)
Pakistan 1.0 (2019) 1,473 (2018)
Qatar -0.2 (2019) 69 026 (2018)
Saudi Arabia 0.3 (2019) 23 219 (2018)
Singapore 0.7 (2019) 64 582 (2018)
Sri Lanka 2.3 (2019) 4 102 (2018)
South Korea 2.0 (2019) 31 363 (2018)
Syria 5.7 (2007) 2 033 (2007)
Tajikistan 7.0 (2019) 827 (2018)
Thailand 2.4 (2019) 7,274 (2018)
Turkmenistan 6.2 (2018) 6 967 (2018)
Uzbekistan 5.6 (2019) 1,532 (2018)
Vietnam 7.0 (2019) 2,564 (2018)
East Timor 3.4 (2019) 2 036 (2018)

Agriculture and livestock management

The coniferous forest belt from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific is the northern hemisphere’s largest contiguous forest area. Only slowly has the Russian Federation begun to benefit from these assets, as the costs are huge in building remote industrial societies and arranging transport and energy supplies over many distances. So far, the forest industry is therefore mainly on the Trans-Siberian railway. Harvesting gradually increased until the early 1980s, but then seems to have stagnated.

Asia’s other major forest region includes the rainforests in the southeast, where hardwood has been harvested to an increasing extent. Around 1980, timber had become one of the most important export goods in Burma (teak), Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Importers were primarily Japan, but also industrialized countries in the West. In order to stop deforestation, several states imposed severe restrictions on harvesting and reforestation requirements in the 1980s, but compliance with the rules could not be monitored, and exploitation continued. The export of timber has decreased significantly, and more and more of the raw material is processed before export, e.g. for plywood. The lowland forests in India have also been greatly reduced, but here the trees are mainly felled to become firewood and building materials.

Japan is 2/3 forested, but large areas are inaccessible due to, among other things. the country’s topographical conditions, and Japan is the world’s largest importer of forest products.


In most states in East and Southeast Asia, most of the animal protein comes from fish feed. The ocean outside of East Asia is one of the richest fish in the world, and Asia accounts for almost half of all fish catches in the world. The largest fishing nation is China, which accounts for just over 12% of the global fish catch. The world’s ten largest fishing nations also include Japan (in fourth place), India, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as the Russian Federation, which, like Japan, fishes partly in coastal waters and partly with highly mechanized fishing fleets throughout most of the world. During the years 1992-96, China’s fish catches increased by 80%, while Japan and the Russian Federation reported a decline of about 15% each. China’s increase is due, among other things, to on extensive fishing under license in waters belonging to the island states of the Pacific. Gradually, the risk of overfishing increases something that is already evident along the shores of the Malacca Peninsula. Fish farming has a very long tradition in China, and throughout East and Southeast Asia extensive fishing is carried out in ponds and streams. China accounts for one fifth of all freshwater fishing in the world.



Siberia, the states of Central Asia, northeastern and southern China, and central India, the Philippines and the Korean Peninsula are the most abundant mineral areas in Asia with large deposits of a variety of metals. However, mineral resources are limited in southwestern Asia as well as in Japan, which is highly dependent on imports of many important raw materials into industry. The presence of alloying metals, which is mainly mined in China and Central Asia, is of greatest importance from a global point of view. Southern China has exceptionally large reserves of tungsten, and the country accounts for 70% of world production. Kazakhstan produces 1/3 of all chromium in the world. In Siberia, for example, tungsten and nickel, while manganese is extracted in India and China.

Iron ore is found in different parts of Asia, and the assets are well distributed in the major producer countries. China has the largest iron ore production in the world, while India ranks fifth. Around 1995, Asia had about 1/3 of the world’s iron ore reserves, accounting for close to 1/3 of the iron ore production. India is a major iron ore exporter; Japan, which has to cover all its iron ore needs through imports, on the other hand, is the world’s largest iron ore importer. There goes more than 1/4 of all iron ore in the world market.

Metals also contain large amounts of tin in a belt from southern China across the Malacca Peninsula to Indonesia. From this comes 60% of world production. A number of countries also have deposits of copper ore, e.g. China, Indonesia, Iran and the Philippines. Kazakhstan, the Korean Peninsula and China have large reserves of lead and zinc ore, and 1/4 of the world’s lead extraction takes place in Asia. There are also huge reserves of bauxite, especially in Kazakhstan, India, China and Indonesia, but so far only 1/9 of world production of bauxite in Asia is happening. Of mercury there are significant assets in south-central China and in Siberia. Gold is found mainly in eastern Siberia, and near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, 10% of the world’s platinum is mined. In Central Asia there are vanadium, beryllium and a host of other metals that are important in the space industry,

The presence of diamonds in the Central Siberian highlands, asbestos in the Ural Mountains and crude phosphate in China and Jordan is of greatest importance. In Japan, sulfur deposits are the only mineral resource to meet domestic demand. Finally, Asia has large assets in rock salt, including in the Qaidam basin in western China.


Asia has enormous energy resources. Of the world’s known and (estimated 1997) exploitable assets, about 2/3 of the oil is found in Asia (close to 4/5 if the Russian Federation is included); 4/5 of the natural gas (including the Russian Federation) and close to half of the coal. Asia accounts for about half of the world’s crude oil production, for more than half of crude oil in international trade and for nearly half of natural gas production in the world. Asia’s fastest growing oil and natural gas production areas are located in northwestern Siberia, from where the products are transported in pipelines west to the outlets. Oil is the most important source of energy in Southwest and Southeast Asia as well as in Japan, which itself produces very little oil but is the world’s second largest oil importer in the world. Coal is the most important energy source in China and South Asia,

The rivers represent great water energy potential, especially in the Russian Federation and China, but power plant expansion is still limited. Uneven water flow and often large amounts of sludge make it difficult to expand, as well as the large distances for transferring electricity to densely populated areas. In total, Asia accounts for less than 1/4 of the world’s water energy production. However, in Jenisei and its tributary Angara in Siberia, there are several of the world’s largest hydropower plants and the world’s largest power plant, San Xia, is now being built by China in Chang Jiang.

Large uranium reserves should be found in, among other things, Central Asia, China and India, but there is no reliable data on the size of the assets. Nuclear energy is important only in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In Asia’s volcanic areas, geothermal energy is a major resource.


Between 1970 and 1997, industrial production increased faster in Asia than in any other part of the world. In the low-income countries, however, the industry is still primarily focused on producing simpler consumer goods. In connection with industrial expansion, in most states the gap between modern, capital-intensive, often foreign-owned industry and the small and medium-sized domestic companies, whose production is labor-intensive and often rooted in an old craft tradition, is widening.

Japan began to industrialize during the latter part of the 19th century, and at the turn of the century there were a few larger factories in India and China as well. Even before World War II, Japan was highly industrialized, and an industrial expansion had also begun in the Asian part of the Soviet Union along the Trans-Siberian railroad. There, the industry focused primarily on processing the area’s mineral and timber assets, while the Japanese industry manufactured textiles and other consumer goods, largely for export, and workshop products, for example. ships and military equipment.

In other parts of Asia, industrialization started only during the 1950s and 1960s. After 1970, major differences began to be noticed between different areas in terms of the industry’s production orientation and growth rate. Following a very rapid growth in the heavy engineering, steel and chemical industries in Japan, there followed an expansion in the production of microelectronic components, other electronic products and means of transport, and Japan is now the world’s leading producer of e.g. home electronics and South Korea’s leading shipbuilding nation. Despite the large shortage of domestic industrial raw materials and fuels, Japan has become the world’s second largest industrial state in the world.

The fastest growth in Asia during the 1980s showed the “industrialization states”, ie. Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore and Hong Kong. They followed the Japanese model and built up a labor-intensive industry, which primarily produced for the world market. In the first stage, mainly textile products were exported, but they were soon followed by electronic and optical products and means of transport. The export-oriented industry created rapid growth in the economy of these countries. Gradually, however, competition from other industrialized countries increased, both in other parts of the world and in East and Southeast Asia. Increasingly, therefore, capital from these early industrialization states has been invested in labor-intensive industries in low-wage countries, while domestic manufacturing focuses on more technology-intensive operations.

In China and India, especially, the heavy industry grew during the 1960s and 1970s. In India, this was done with outside technical support, while China, following the break with the Soviet Union in 1960, pursued a policy of growth entirely on its own. In the 1980s, both countries had a technology that enabled the production of both consumer goods and the capital goods required for such production. They were also able to manufacture equipment for the metallurgical and chemical industry and export complete factories. China has been striving for close links with the capitalist world economy since the late 1970s to accelerate industrialization, and since the early 1980s, growth has been very rapid. In the mid-1990s, the manufacturing industry accounted for 41% of GDP in China, while the share in India was only 17%. With respect to the industry’s total value added in 1995, Japan came in second place, South Korea in sixth and China in ninth place. However, with regard to the size of industrial production, India is one of the twelve leading states in the world; inter alia the nuclear and armor industry is highly developed.

In most states in southwestern Asia, the manufacturing industry has little scope due to lack of coal, water energy, minerals and other raw materials, and capital. The industry usually accounts for only 5–15% of GDP, and it is mainly focused on the processing of agricultural products as well as the production of textile products, building materials and simpler consumer goods for households. Machines and vehicles must be imported. Heavy, capital-intensive engineering industries are mainly located in Turkey and Israel, which are the region’s most industrialized countries. In South and Southeast Asia, the manufacturing industry is of the greatest importance in Thailand and Malaysia, where it accounts for just over 30% of GDP.

In recent years, a very capital-intensive chemical industry has been built up in the oil-producing states in southwestern Asia and Indonesia. In addition, there are plants for energy-intensive processing of imported metals.

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