The term Asian can refer to something or someone from Asia. Its precise use varies depending on who is using it.

In the United Kingdom and Anglophone Africa, the term "Asian", though it can be used to refer to the continent of Asia as a whole, is more usually associated specifically with people and cultures whose origin lies in South Asia, which includes modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (see British Asian). Some Britons do not take care to distinguish between "South Asia" and "India", while others make a clear distinction between the various countries that form the region.

In the United States, Ireland and Australasia (Australia and East Asia), since approximately 1990 "Asian" has been considered a more politically correct term for "Oriental", which previously referred to people from China, Japan, and Korea and other East Asian countries. This is partially due to the fact that the term "Orientalism" in academia has become associated with the European colonial attitude toward the Ottoman East.

In the U.S., the term "Asian" can also be used to describe people from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Tibet, the Philippines, and other nations which have a similar racial appearance. It also can be used more formally to refer to people or entities from the entire Asian continent.

To avoid the confusion that sometimes occurs, the term "East Asian" is sometimes used to distinguish people from China, Japan, and Korea, while Indians, Pakistanis and Bangaldeshis can be more specifically referred to using "South Asian" (or, more rarely, "Asian Indians" or "East Indians"). It should be noted that both these clarifications are relatively formal, and are used only when it is necessary to make a distinction between the group concerned and other Asian peoples.

The term "West Asian" is used in very rare occasions to refer to people from Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. The term "West Asian" is often considered overly formal and may be considered by some to be overly politically correct. Although some Russians hail from the Asian continent, most are genetically closer to Europeans and therefore not usually referred to as "Asian".

Assyrians, Arabs, Persians, Ottomans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and many other ethnic and cultural groups are often referred in one category as Asian and this can cause considerable confusion. Some believe that the idea that "Asians" form a coherent cultural group is outmoded and therefore the term should be replaced by use of separate term for each Asian cultural or geographical group. For this reason, some East Asians prefer to be referred to as Orientals rather than being referred to as "Asian".

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