Asia is the largest of the seven continents, and many Asian countries are clearly rich in many categories, including natural beauty and resources, priceless cultural heritage, fertile land, and more. This article will focus upon monetary riches at a national level, using Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP per capita, and Gross National Income (GNI) to determine the wealth of Asia's nations.
Asia's wealthiest countries, ranked by GDP
Arguably the most commonly used economic indicator is GDP, which measures the total value of all the goods and services produced by a nation during a given period of time (typically a month or year). This all-in-one approach makes GDP an excellent at-a-glance snapshot of a country's current economic health.
Top 10 Richest Asian Countries (2020 GDP, Int$ PPP - World Bank)
- China - $24.27 trillion
- India - $8.91 trillion
- Japan - $5.33 trillion
- Indonesia - $3.30 trillion
- Turkey - $2.37 trillion
- South Korea - $2.23 trillion
- Saudi Arabia - $1.63 trillion
- Thailand - $1.3 trillion
- Iran - $1.1 trillion
- Pakistan - $1.08 trillion
China tops the list with a GDP of $24.27 trillion, measured in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) international dollars (a fictional currency that makes country-to-country comparisons easier). Industry and construction account for almost half of China's total GDP. The primary industries include mining and ore processing, textiles, machinery, automobiles, steel, aluminum, coal, and more. Another large economic sector is agriculture. China is the largest agricultural producer in the world. There are about 300 million Chinese farmers.
India ranks as the second-richest country in Asia, with an economy heavily centered on service industries (55.6% of GDP), industrial business (26.3%), and agriculture (18.1% of GDP). It is a major producer of crops including rice, wheat, cotton, tea, sugarcane, and potatoes. Although many Indian people still struggle with poverty, the country's economy as a whole is one of the fastest growing in the world.
The third-wealthiest country in Asia is Japan, with just over $5.3 trillion. Japan's great strength is its highly developed technology sector, which helps the "Land of the Rising Sun" rank as one of the most innovative countries in the entire world. Japan's population is declining, thanks to an aging population and low birth rate, which could cause economic concern in the future.
Useful as it is, GDP is not the final word on a nation's wealth. For example, China and India are the two most populous countries in the world, so it makes sense that they rank high in terms of total GDP—a country with more workers is likely to create more product overall. However, different metrics can frequently offer a different list of wealthiest countries.
Asia's wealthiest countries, ranked by GDP Per Capita
GDP per capita divides the GDP by the number of citizens a country has, giving a bit more insight into the welfare of the average person. Below are the ten richest Asian countries in terms of GDP per capita in October 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Top 10 Richest Asian Countries (2020 GDP per capita, Int$ PPP - IMF)
- Singapore - $107,680
- Qatar - $100,040
- United Arab Emirates - $74,240
- Macao (China) - $67,470
- Brunei - $65,670
- Hong Kong (China) - $65,400
- Taiwan - $61,370
- Bahrain - $53,130
- Saudi Arabia - $48,910
- South Korea - $48,310
The city-state of Singapore is the wealthiest country in Asia, with a per-capita GDP of $107,690 (PPP Int$). Singapore owes its wealth not to oil but rather to a low level of government corruption and a business-friendly economy. Many investors from around the world come to Singapore to do business, bringing their money with them. The second-wealthiest country in Asia is Qatar, an oil-rich country on the Middle East's Arabian Peninsula. Qatar's per-capita GDP is $100,040, and the country's oil reserves contain enough oil to sustain this wealth for at least another two decades.
The rest of the top 10 is largely composed of countries that are both small in size ("per capita" economic metrics often benefit countries with smaller populations) and either oil-rich or among the most business-friendly and technologically-advanced countries, such as the autonomous Chinese territory, Hong Kong. But as before, another metric may offer another angle.
Asia's wealthiest countries, ranked by GNI per capita
Gross National Income (GNI) per capita differs from GDP in that instead of measuring what a country sends out as product, GNI measures what a country brings in as income. This difference is arguably subtle, but it helps screen for "tax shelter" countries whose GDPs are unnaturally inflated by international corporations funneling money through them to save on taxes.
Top 10 Richest Asian Countries (2020 GNI per capita, Atlas method, current US$ - World Bank)
- Macau (China) - $75,610
- Qatar - $56,210
- Singapore - $54,920
- Hong Kong (China) - $48,630
- United Arab Emirates - $43,470
- Israel - $43,070
- Japan - $41,580
- Kuwait - $36,290
- South Korea - $32,860
- Brunei - $32,230
Once again, the list changes. But no matter which economic indicator one consults, it's important to remember that county-level wealth, even when measured per capita, is not meant to be interpreted as the actual average or even median income of that country's citizens. Particularly in this age of massive income inequality, metrics must be more purpose-specific, granular, and nuanced than GDP or GNI to create a clear picture of the average worker's pay and their resulting buying power.