When did you last see a news story about the world's largest island country?
With the possible exception of America, all countries are under-reported by the British media. Like everyone else, we’re primarily interested in ourselves; and, in any case, reporting from abroad is expensive and sometimes dangerous.
That said, some countries are more under-reported than others. For decades, the most obvious example was China. But we’re beginning to wake-up now — especially at a time when the Middle East is exerting a weaker grip on the news agenda than it did five, ten or twenty years ago.
What about India, then? Well, we certainly ought to hear a lot more about a country that this decade is set to become the world’s biggest (by population). But though insufficient, coverage is at least regular — aided by links of language, history and immigration.
So, neither China nor India is the world’s most under-reported country. To see who does qualifies for that dubious honour take a look at the following chart from the World Economic Forum. It shows how the ranking of the ten biggest economies has changed since 1992, including a projection for 2024:
The headline development is China sailing past America to take the number one spot. That, however, is something we’ve expected for a long time — with some debate as to the precise year. For the real surprise, however, look at the new entries for 2024. Straight in at number five, it’s Indonesia.
This is a nation of almost 270 million people (and something like 280 million by 2024). It has the world’s largest Muslim population— though with Christian, Hindu and other minorities. Geographically, it is an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands (6,000 of them inhabited), stretching over 3,000 miles from west to east.
And now it’s an economic giant too. But when did you last read or see a news story about the place? How many Britons do you think could place it on a map or name its leader or say much about the country at all?
We’ve heard about its more famous islands, of course — e.g. Java, Sumatra and Bali. Some of us have been lucky enough to travel to these destinations. But how many of us know that Java is the most populated island on the planet with more than 140 million people? That’s more than twice the population of Great Britain — and more even than Honshu, the main Japanese island. Google ‘Java’, however, and you’ll be buried in references to computer software and coffee.
If the biggest story of the 21st century is the rivalry between China and America, then the Asia-Pacific will be its primary setting. As the biggest country in the region (apart from China), it’s about time we paid Indonesia the attention it deserves.