Regions of Asia

January 5, 2024

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World globe showing the continent of Asia. China is at the centre of the globe, and India and Mongolia are also clear while the rest of the globe is blurred.

Asia is the most populous and largest continent in the world, with over 4.7 billion people living in its 48 countries and three territories. This continent is arguably the most diverse in the world, with over 2,300 spoken languages and various religions. Asia also has the Earth’s highest and lowest points. Mount Everest, in Nepal, has a height of 8,848 meters (29,029 feet). Meanwhile, the Challenger Deep in the Western Pacific Ocean has a depth of over 19,902 meters (35,768 feet)!

Asia was the birthplace of 11 major religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Asia was also home to three of the five recognized cradles of civilization (Iraq, China, and India). These civilizations have had a massive impact on the continent and the wider world for over one thousand years.

Although there is no universal agreement on the regional composition of Asia, The United Nations geoscheme system is commonly used as a method to divide the world’s countries and territories into subdivisions. Based on this classification Asia is divided into five regions: Central Asia, Eastern Asia, South-eastern Asia, Southern Asia and Western Asia (note that all of the region of Russia/Siberia is placed in Eastern Europe).

Regions of Asia based on the United Nations Geoscheme
Regions of Asia based on the United Nations Geoscheme

Continue reading to find out more about these five regions, including the different countries, cultures, and climates.

Central Asia

Countries in Central Asia based on UN Geoscheme
Countries in Central Asia based on UN Geoscheme

Central Asia consists of five countries with a total population of over 78 million. Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country, with over 35 million people, while Turkmenistan is the region’s least populated country, with just over 6 million people.

From the mid-19th century until the end of the 20th century, Central Asia was a part of the Russian Empire and, later, the Soviet Union. Historically, Central Asia had close ties with the Silk Road trade routes and acted as a popular route between Europe and the Far East.

Central Asian cuisine is a melting pot of different cultures, from Turkish and Russian to Indian, African, and Chinese. The lack of water has greatly influenced the cooking in this region. Food was historically cooked in clay ovens called tandyr, using fuel sources such as popular trees and animal dung. Soups and stews were cooked in single large cauldrons. Tea, predominately black and green, is the most popular beverage.

Approximately 60% of the region is made up of desert, which is largely unsuitable for agricultural use. A lack of water means the region’s population is unevenly distributed; most people live in the southeast of Central Asia, and few live in the more western Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The whole region tends to experience hot summers and cool winters.

Countries of Central Asia

  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

Eastern Asia

Countries and territories in Eastern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme
Countries and territories in Eastern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme

Eastern Asia consists of six countries and has a population of over 1.6 billion. China, the world’s most populated country, accounts for 1.4 billion of this number, which includes the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong (population; 7.4 million) and Macau (population: 686,607). Mongolia is East Asia’s least populated, with a population of around 3.4 million people.

East Asia contains three of the world’s major economies: China, Japan, and South Korea. China was one of the earliest cradles of civilization and was civilized for over 1,500 years before other East Asian civilizations. This meant China could exert its power over nearby nations and thus influenced the rest of East Asia culturally and economically for two thousand years.

Rice, noodles, and seafood are staples in East Asia cuisine. Japan is the world’s largest seafood importer: in 2022, Japan imported $15 billion in seafood products, which accounts for half of the country’s seafood demand.

Eastern Asia has a mix of five different climate regions: humid subtropical, arid, semi-arid, highland, and humid continental. Monsoons are common in the region and affect the precipitation and temperature. The monsoons also cause dust storms in the drier parts of China.

Countries of Eastern Asia

  • China
  • North Korea
  • Japan
  • Mongolia
  • South Korea

Territories of Eastern Asia

  • Taiwan
  • Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China)
  • Macau (Special Administrative Region of China)

South-eastern Asia

Countries in South-eastern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme
Countries in South-eastern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme

South-eastern Asia is made up of 11 countries and has a total population of just over 689 million. With a population of over 278 million, Indonesia is the region’s most populated country and Brunei is the least with just 454,000

Europeans knew the region as the East Indies until the 20th century. Many of the countries are influenced by European culture as they were colonized by Europeans who exploited the region’s natural resources. South-eastern Asia has also been influenced by Indian, Chinese, and Muslim cultures. The region has a diverse collection of different languages and ethnicities. There are over 1,000 native languages in South-eastern Asia, with over 800 found in Indonesia. Many people who live in these countries are bilingual or even trilingual.

Stirfrying, steaming, and boiling are the most common cooking methods in South-eastern Asia. Citrus (such as lime) and herbs (such as cilantro and basil) help give the dishes strong aromatic flavors. Some of the region’s most popular dishes include Pad Thai, Laksa, and Nasi goreng (Indonesia’s national dish).

South-eastern Asia has a mostly tropical climate and experiences hot and humid weather for most of the year. As with eastern Asia, this region is prone to monsoons, predominately the Southwest Monsoon in the summer and the Northeast Monsoon in the winter. The area also commonly sees cyclones and typhoons.

Countries of South-eastern Asia

  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Timor-Leste
  • Vietnam

Southern Asia

Countries in Southern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme
Countries in Southern Asia, based on UN Geoscheme

This region consists of nine countries with a population of 2 billion people. India is the second most populous country in the world and has a population of 1.4 billion, while the region’s least populated is The Maldives, with a population of roughly 520,000.

Pakistan, Northern India, and Afghanistan were home to Southern Asia’s earliest civilization (the Indus civilization) in around 3,300 to 1,300 BC. Today, the region is one of the world’s most densely populated areas, with around 785 people per square miles. Southern Asia’s population accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s total population.

As with most other regions in Asia, rice is a staple in Southern Asian cuisine. Long-grained and aromatic basmati rice is commonly consumed in North India and Pakistan, whereas red rice is more common in Nepalese diets. The Southern Asian dishes are world-famous for their spices, particularly aromatic ones, such as turmeric, cumin, and Garam Masala (which is a popular spice blend).

South Asia’s climate is a mix of dry, temperate, and tropical. The main cause of the region’s precipitation is the Southwest Monsoon in the summer months (July to September).

Countries of Southern Asia

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • India
  • Iran
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka

Western Asia

Countries in Western Asia, based on UN Geoscheme
Countries in Western Asia, based on UN Geoscheme

With 18 countries, Western Asia has the most countries of any region in Asia. It has a total population of over 300 million people.

The least populated country is Cyprus, with just over 1.2 million people, and the most populous is TΓΌrkiye (Turkey), with over 86 million. TΓΌrkiye is a transcontinental country mainly in the Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia but partially in the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe too. Although technically in Western Asia, Cyprus is largely influenced by Southeast Europe (particularly Greek). The island country is divided between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Western Asia mainly consists of grassland, deserts, and mountains. The ever-increasing population in the region has put a strain on the water supply and caused widespread shortages. Pollution has also had a major impact on water supplies.

This region is typically characterized by a continental climate in the north, a dry zone in the south, and a Mediterranean climate to the west.

The cuisines in Western Asian countries are incredibly diverse. However, a lot of dishes feature the likes of olives, honey, and chickpeas in some form, as well as sesame seeds, dates, and sumac.

Countries of Western Asia

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Cyprus
  • Georgia
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Palestine
  • Syria
  • TΓΌrkiye
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

FAQs

Overview

Asia is the most diverse continent in the world and has helped shape modern civilization. Several countries, notably China, Japan, and South Korea are major economies. The continent is also home to two of the world’s most populated countries: China and India. These two countries help make Asia the most populous continent in the world, with over four billion people divided between 48 countries.

Common staples in Asian cuisine include rice, aromatic spices, and stews. Southern Asian dishes are well-known for their spices, while Eastern Asia is known for its seafood consumption. The climates are equally diverse, with a mix of dry, humid, and tropical in some countries. Monsoons are also common in southeastern and East Asian countries.

Credit: Map images created with map.chart.net

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