Showing posts with label South East Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South East Asia. Show all posts

24 June 2017


On what was to be her wedding day, Stephanie Villarosa ate chocolate-flavored rice porridge out of a styrofoam cup. Under normal circumstances—rings exchanged, fidelity promised, bride kissed—she and her family would have been feasting on lechón, roasted suckling pig, a delicacy in her fiancé’s hometown of Iligan City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Instead, Villarosa was huddled on an institutional plastic chair 38 km south of Iligan, inside Marawi City’s provincial government building. Outside, sniper fire crackled over the mosque-dotted hills to the east and military FA50 fighter jets thundered overhead. Wedding or no, the porridge was nourishing, and Villarosa was happy: “God is good. Today we survived.”

Survival has become a daily battle in Marawi, the capital of Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province and whose mostly Muslim 200,000 population make the city the biggest Islamic community in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Villarosa, a teacher in Marawi, was handing out wedding invitations when black-clad fighters of what the locals call Grupo ISIS swarmed the streets. She ran, hid, and took shelter in a nearby house with 38 other people. Outside, she heard, her workplace Dansalan College was burning, and Christians were being killed. “We rescued ourselves—no military,” says Villarosa. “We had to run, walk, crawl.” Seven of her colleagues, including the school’s principal, were unaccounted for, but, low on food and water, and with news that the military was set to bomb the area, Villarosa decided to get to the sanctuary of city hall. “It looked like a movie outside, it looked like The Walking Dead,” she says, referring to the post-apocalypse U.S. TV series.

12 June 2017


In May, the governor of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – known more commonly as Ahok – was sentenced to two years’ jail for blaspheming against the Qur’an. Indonesian governors don’t often feature in global news, but Ahok’s case is exceptional, seen as a barometer for the state of Indonesia’s tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity. The world’s largest Muslim state has often prided itself on its pluralism, enshrined in the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“unity in diversity”). But now, that unity is being challenged. Ahok’s fate has raised concerns beyond Indonesia’s shores about the use of religious tactics in future elections and the cohesiveness of Indonesia’s pluralism more broadly.

In late 2016, Islamic hardliners capitalized on Ahok’s double minority status as a Christian and ethnic Chinese to paint him as “anti-Muslim.” In October, Ahok had said his opponents were misusing the Qur’an to trick people into voting against a non-Muslim. His statements, edited to appear more provocative, went viral on social media. Hardliners fanned condemnation of his statements and mobilized mass protests in the capital (up to 200,000 at their peak in December) to call for his arrest. Not all of Ahok’s policies were popular but these tactics were seen as successful in transforming his double-digit lead into defeat during April’s gubernatorial elections. His prison sentence is also considered a political move, given prosecutors had asked only for probation.

4 June 2017

Buddhism Versus Islam: Clash Of Civilisations In South And South-East Asia?

Ananth Krishna

From Myanmar to Thailand and all the way to Sri Lanka, one of the oldest conflicts of Asia seems to be turning more violent by the day.

The Buddhist and the Islamic worlds seem to be increasingly in conflict in south and south-east Asia. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalist organisations are in open conflict with Muslims; in Thailand, Islamist insurgency has resurrected itself in the Patani region; In Indonesia, tensions between the Muslim majority and Buddhist minority have surged.

The conflicts between the Muslims and Buddhists in the region represent a clear faultline between two cultures, as theorised in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. As Islamic invasions made their way towards the east, the repression and persecution that came in their wake ransacked Buddhist temples, destroyed the famous Nalanda University, as well as the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Other regions in this part of Asia like Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand were spared from this brute force of the Islamist invasions.

In Indonesia, Islam made its entry only in the 13th century through traders. The province of Aceh served as an entry point for Muslim traders, and through them, their religion slowly spread to the rest of the archipelago. By the beginning of the 19th century, there were only a few pockets of Buddhist or Hindu influence left in Indonesia.

Islamic State jihad explodes in Southeast Asia


Islamic State-backed militants’ ongoing assault on Marawi City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao heralds a bid by the radical extremist group to open a new Southeast Asian front in a spreading campaign of global jihad.

The Marawi battle has established the clear presence of other Southeast Asian nationals fighting side-by-side with the IS-aligned Filipino Maute Group, with confirmed deaths of Malaysian and Indonesian nationals in the battle zone. On the battle’s seventh day, 61 militants, 20 government soldiers and 17 civilians were reportedly killed. 

Philippine Solicitor General Jose Calida publicly announced that “what is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of citizens, but it has transmogrified into an invasion of foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of ISIS.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs has claimed that Muhamad Ali Abdul Rahiman, a Singapore national, has been in Mindanao and was implicated in terror-related attacks across the region since the 1990s. Rahiman’s involvement in the current assault on Marawi is under investigation.

Tale Of The Tape: What Would North Korea Bring To The Fight? – Modern War Institute

by James King 

Once again tensions on the Korean Peninsula are extremely high. Rumors of war are spreading like wild fire. North Korea has been conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests on a regular basis, thumbing its nose at the world. President Donald Trump said there was a risk of “major, major conflict” with North Korea during meetings with Chinese leaders in April. Very few times in the history of the two Koreas have sabers been rattled as hard.

For over sixty years both sides have prepared for the day when their two armies would clash once again. Throughout South Korea you can see pre-dug fighting positions with sector sketches laminated and posted so that any soldier could fall in on the position and be ready to fight. Obstacles which could block any north/south road are just waiting to be emplaced, and preplanned artillery positions are marked down to the meter just waiting for guns to arrive.

So what will American or South Korean soldiers see coming over the horizon as they stand ready in their defensive positions? What will they encounter as they move north? Historically, North Korea is one of the hardest places to get information about. Because of that, numbers of total pieces of military equipment can vary from one expert’s estimate to another’s across the internet. But they all generally agree on what type of equipment is out there. So what exactly would North Korean forces go to war with? And what are the particular advantages and disadvantages of this equipment set?

2 June 2017

Military Spending In Southeast Asia

 by Dan Steinbock

The conventional military narratives highlight aggregate expenditures and downplay per capita spending. Realities are more nuanced, both globally and in Southeast Asia.

The conventional narrative is that China has become assertive, while the West is ignoring its defense needs. According to SIPRI research, in the past decade military spending in China and Russia increased 118% and 87%, respectively, while US spending plunged almost 5%.

Yet, the list of top-10 military spenders includes the US ($611 billion), China ($215 billion), Russia ($69 billion), followed by Saudi Arabia, India, major EU economies, Japan and South Korea. Together, they account for three-fourths of the total. Washington spends more dollars a year on its military than the next seven biggest spenders combined - which penalizes US living standards and stability abroad.

Moreover, the US is escalating. The Trump administration is planning a huge Reagan-style rearmament and requesting $54 billion; an almost 10% increase in a single year - even as its public debt amounts to $20 trillion (105% of US GDP).

Influence by Default: Europe´s Impact on Military Security in East Asia

By Mathieu Duchâtel and Mark Bromley for European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)


The much-discussed notion of an ‘Asian arms race’ is an exaggeration. Instead, since no country can match Chinese military expenditure, several Asian states are acquiring asymmetric capabilities to try to prevent an excessive unbalance with China. 

Through arms exports, transfers of technology, and arms and dual-use export controls, Europe’s impact on Asian armaments trends and security is larger than is usually acknowledged. 

European states and firms are providing arms to several states as they seek to avoid such excessive unbalance with China. But this action is not guided by clear policy and is often driven by commercial interests and political constraints. 

The EU arms embargo on China has not prevented the Chinese arms industry from making rapid progress: it is now a major export competitor. Europe is contributing to this progress through transfers of dual-use items and intangible technology transfers. 

A more coherent approach will ensure Europe’s impact on Asia’s military balance is not destabilising and that export control gaps are closed. 

29 May 2017

The ARF Moves forward on Cybersecurity

The Wannacry virus that attacked computers around the world last week is one more reminder of the growing threat posed by vulnerabilities in cyberspace. Over 100,000 networks in over 150 countries were infected by the malware; the actual ransoms paid appear to have been limited, but the total cost of the attack – including, for example, the work hours lost – is not yet known. Experts believe that this is only the most recent in what will be a cascading series of attacks as information technologies burrow deeper into the fabric of daily life; security specialists already warn that the next malware attack is already insinuated into networks and is awaiting the signal to begin.

Cyber threats are climbing steadily up the list of Asia-Pacific security concerns. Experts reckon that cyber crime inflicted $81 billion in damage to the Asia Pacific region in 2015 and the number of such incidents is growing. Online radicalization and other content-related issues pose expanding threats to the region, challenging national narratives and in some cases undermining government legitimacy and credibility. The networks and technologies that are increasingly critical to the very functioning of societies are vulnerable and those vulnerabilities are being distributed as regional governments are more intimately connected and more deeply integrated in economic communities. One recent study concludes that an ASEAN digital revolution could propel the region into the top five digital economies in the world by 2025, adding as much as $1 trillion in regional GDP over a decade. This growth and prosperity are threatened by proliferating cyber threats.

28 May 2017

ISIS in East Asia: Strategic Shifts and Security Implications

By Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani for S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)

As the Philippines battles with militant groups in Mindanao, Daesh supporters have both rechristened and reimagined the latter area as “Wilayah Asia Timur.” This step, observe Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Jani, is part of a strategic shift by the murderous group in East Asia. The alteration deemphasizes controlling territory in favor of banditry and crime, all in the name of jihad.

As the Philippines battles with militant groups in Mindanao, ISIS supporters have reimagined the area as “Wilayah Asia Timur” as part of ISIS’ strategic shift in East Asia. ISIS terrorists in Southeast Asia may revert to crime and banditry as part of their so-called jihad.


In June 2016, ISIS released a video that recognised the pledges of allegiance of various miltant groups in Mindanao. In that video Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was recognised as amir of the ISIS groups. It also alluded to the conglomeration of ISIS elements in the Philippines. The A’maaq News Agency, an ISIS mouthpiece acknowledged the presence of ten such groups in six locations throughout Mindanao. This would include the four featured in the video, ASG, the Maute Group (MG), and Katibah al-Muhajir, a cell consisting of migrants from Malaysia and Indonesia.

17 May 2017

Crowded and Complex: The Changing Geopolitics of the South Pacific

Joanne Wallis 

This report contends that Australia faces an increasingly crowded and complex geopolitical environment in the South Pacific region. While the most important external powers in this part of the world have traditionally been Australia, New Zealand, the US and France, a number of new powers are becoming increasingly active, most notably China, Russia, Indonesia, Japan and India. Furthermore, South Pacific states such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji are also emerging as local influencers in their own right. Due to the South Pacific’s proximity and strategic importance to Australia, the text’s author concludes that Canberra must respond to the ‘crowding’ of the region by focusing on it in a clear, consistent and sustained way.




11 May 2017

Can ASEAN Save the Mekong River?

By Luke Hunt

Amid mounting concerns surrounding the degradation of the Mekong River, authorities from four of the countries responsible for the longest river in Southeast Asia met last week in Laos, raising hopes that solutions could be found for the 70 million people who rely on the Mekong for food.

It’s a task made all the more difficult since frustrated Western donors effectively abandoned the Mekong River Commission (MRC), forcing a restructure of the group controlled by two one-party states in Vietnam and Laos, a junta in Thailand, and democratic Cambodia.

That’s hardly a prescription for transparent management of such an important waterway, where priorities put first the Laos politicians and companies that stand to benefit from construction of nine dams across the mainstream of the Mekong River, and over 100 others elsewhere.

8 May 2017

Monks with guns

The recent violence in southern Thailand began on 4 January 2004, when Malay Muslim insurgents invaded a Thai Army depot in the southernmost province of Narathiwat. The next day, after the burning of 20 schools and several bomb attacks in a neighbouring province, the Thai government declared martial law over the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. Shortly after, two Buddhist monks were killed during their morning alms, and a third injured. In these provinces, the majority population is Muslim, and Buddhists are a minority. By the summer, journalists and scholars had written articles about the insurgents and the role of Islam in the violence. But since Buddhism was associated with peace, no one thought to investigate the role of Buddhism. How could a Buddhist monk participate in the violence? Yet clearly, Buddhism was involved in the conflict. 

In Pattani’s capital district, the My Gardens Hotel is popular with tourists. I had gone there to collect people’s opinions on the killing of Buddhist monks. On this day, the hotel was nearly vacant, the lobby empty, save for two police officers, who were devout Thai Buddhists. As I wanted to get their perspective on the ongoing violence, the three of us sat down together. They explained that they were periodically stationed at the My Gardens Hotel because insurgents had begun to bomb local businesses. Economics, they said, was an important factor behind the current violence. Poverty was creating a desperation that deepened the crisis. 

7 May 2017

There May Be More To North Korea’s ‘Failed’ Missile Test Than Meets They Eye

Ryan Pickrell

U.S. Pacific Command reported that the ballistic missile, which has yet to be identified, “did not leave North Korean territory.” The weapon reportedly broke up over North Korea several minutes after launch, but it may not have been a botch.

Saturday’s missile failure may have been a deliberate explosion, South Korean government officials told the Korea Times. “We don’t believe the mid-air explosion was an accident,” South Korean cable news channel YTN quoted government officials as saying, “It’s believed the explosion was a test to develop a nuclear weapon different from existing ones.” The theory is that the North may have been testing a nuclear warhead.

(This first appeared in The Daily Caller News Foundation’s site here.)

That North Korea launched the missile across its territory from the west coast was a little unusual, leading some to suspect that perhaps the North intentionally kept the weapon from splashing down in the sea where a U.S. Navy carrier strike group is stationed.

4 May 2017



The batteries of North Korean artillery lie just on the other side of the divided peninsula’s demilitarized zone. There are thousands of them—some hidden, others out in the open. Artillery shells are stored in an elaborate network of tunnels; and though much of the weaponry and ammunition is old, U.S. forces stationed in South Korea have no doubt they would be effective.

Less than 40 miles to the south is the sprawling city of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, with a metropolitan area of 24 million inhabitants. Ever since a cease-fire ended hostilities between North and South Korea in 1953, the residents of Seoul have lived with the knowledge that a war with their brethren in the north could break out again; it is a notion not often acknowledged but embedded in their DNA. And now, again, the fraught Korean Peninsula seems a single miscalculation away from calamity. Since his election, President Donald Trump and his foreign policy team have escalated their rhetoric about the North, insisting that U.S. patience with North Korea’s nuclear and missile program has run out. Pyongyang has responded with rhetoric even more bellicose than usual. On April 20, a state-owned newspaper threatened that Pyongyang would deliver a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike’’ against the U.S., whose forces were in the midst of massive military exercises with their South Korean ally.

27 April 2017

The Real Risk of US Military Force Against North Korea

By Daniel Amick

Escalating tension between the United States and North Korea has prompted fevered public focus on the possibility of war — even nuclear war — on the Korean Peninsula. The risk is real, and observers are right to emphasize it. Amid the debate, however, another potential scenario remains underexplored: That American use of military force against North Korea might not change much at all. This troubling possibility is not as unlikely as it may seem and would damage U.S. influence in East Asia and around the world. Washington would find itself back where it started, but with a less credible military threat to drive North Korea and other rogue states to the negotiating table.

Washington’s recent posturing aims to force North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to decide once and for all whether his nuclear and missile programs are worth the mounting cost. It attempts to present Kim with a binary — almost apocalyptic — choice: back down immediately and engage with the United States on Washington’s terms, or risk an all-out war that brings down his regime.

To sharpen the decision point, President Donald Trump has prodded China to increase economic and political pressure on Kim and has signaled that he will address the North Korean threat unilaterally if necessary. Vice President Mike Pence reiterated the toughening U.S. stance this week in Seoul, declaring that the “era of strategic patience” is over. He pointed to U.S. airstrikes earlier this month in Syria and Afghanistan as demonstrations of American “strength and resolve.”

24 April 2017


by Max Boot 

We should not panic, any more than we panicked when Russia and China acquired similar capabilities many decades ago. In those cases, we relied on deterrence to prevent an attack, while, in the case of the Soviet Union, implementing a containment doctrine premised on the assumption that the dysfunctional Soviet state would eventually collapse. That strategy was amply vindicated by the peaceful end of the Cold War and could usefully be followed in the case of North Korea today.

From the U.S. perspective, our policy should be to hasten the regime’s demise by applying all possible sanctions, but not to isk an outright military confrontation with a state that possesses nuclear weapons and artillery zeroed in on Seoul. That seems to be the policy that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, was hinting at when he said on Sunday that the U.S. should “take action, short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst” in dealing with “this unpredictable regime.” If so, then the Trump administration is taking a responsible approach—ratcheting up the pressure but stopping short of war. Let’s hope that this is, in fact, the policy going forward.

The Forces that Shape the Military Options in Korea

By Anthony H. Cordesman

It is all too easy to talk about military options in general terms. The devil, however, lies in the details—both in terms of the practical ability of a given side's capability to execute given options and in terms of the ability to predict how the other side(s) will react and how the resulting conflict will escalate or be terminated.

This is particularly true in the case of North Korea. Its leader maintains power and control by constantly exaggerating the threats his country faces, provoking outside states like the United States and South Korea, and leveraging China's need for his country to be a strategic buffer on its northern border, against China's desire for stability and economic development. He gains from carefully exploiting what other states tend to see as extremism, overreaction, and "irrational action."

This offers him a way of dealing with the reality that North Korea is economically weak and is a large but often obsolescent military power. While estimates differ, the CIA World Factbook offers some of the highest public estimates of North Korean GDP. Recent CIA estimates indicate that North Korea's population is around 25.2 million versus 50.9 million for South Korea, making it roughly half the size of its southern neighbor. The CIA notes that any estimate of North Korea's GDP presents major problems, but reports that North Korea's GDP is somewhere around $40 billion in purchasing power parity terms versus over $1.9 trillion for South Korea, or a little over 2% of the size of its neighbor's economy.

23 April 2017

*** What a War with North Korea Looks Like

By George Friedman

In the last week, the possibility of war between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States has increased. It is necessary therefore to consider what such a war might look like. I am using the term war rather than merely American attacks on North Korean nuclear and missile program facilities because we have to consider the possibility of North Korea’s response and a more extended conflict.

Such a war would be based on North Korea’s decision to move its nuclear program to a stage where the U.S. and other countries conclude it is possible that North Korea is close to having a deliverable nuclear weapon. Given that the North Koreans could not survive a nuclear exchange, it is hard to understand why they would have moved their program to this point. The obvious reason for having a nuclear program is to use it as a bargaining tool. The reason for having a nuclear weapon would be as a deterrent to a foreign power seeking regime change in North Korea. The most dangerous period for North Korea is when it is close to having a weapon but does not yet have it. That is the period when an attack by an external force is more likely. It is the period before North Korea could counterattack. Pyongyang’s decision to deliberately send signals that it has a nuclear weapon increases the urgency of an attack. Its decision is odd, even if it already has one or two nuclear weapons.

19 April 2017

*** North Korea: A Red Line at the 38th Parallel

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspects an air drill involving special operation forces at an undisclosed location. The situation is tense across the Korean Peninsula in anticipation of further nuclear tests conducted by Pyongyang. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) 

All eyes are focused on the Korean Peninsula. Signs suggest that North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear weapons test, perhaps as soon as April 15, to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. If Pyongyang follows through, the act will be nothing short of a provocation. 

As tensions mount, China has stressed the importance of diplomacy and of preventing the situation from escalating to an "irreversible and unmanageable stage." So far, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has relied largely on non-kinetic means such as additional sanctions and increased enforcement or enhanced regional missile defense to keep North Korea's nuclear ambitions in check. But Washington has made clear that it will keep all of its options open. As the United States demonstrated with its limited cruise missile strike in Syria on April 6, it is willing to take unilateral military action. And considering North Korea's dogged efforts to advance its nuclear program, the Trump administration will have to carefully calculate the risks of a potential military strike. 

A Range of Options 

Action against North Korea could take many shapes or forms, from a limited strike to a large-scale military offensive targeting all of North Korea's military assets. On the lowest end of the scale, the United States could launch a strike to punish North Korea for continuing to develop its nuclear and missile arsenal and to deter it from pursuing nuclear weapons in the future. A punitive strike may be limited to a single base or facility in the country, with the threat of further action down the line if Pyongyang doesn't alter its behavior. Though this kind of attack offers the best way to keep the situation from escalating, it would by no means ensure that North Korea heeds the United States' warning and eases up on its nuclear and missile development. Nor does it eliminate the risk that Pyongyang may respond to the strike in kind. 

8 April 2017

South China Sea Options: An Alternative Route

By The Black Swan

“The Black Swan” is an officer and a strategist in the U.S. Army. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been a company commander, and served at the battalion, brigade, division, and Army Command (ACOM) level staffs. The opinions expressed are his alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.

National Security Situation: Japan is one of the most stalwart allies of the United States (U.S.) in Asia. The U.S. guarantees Japanese security and sovereignty. Japan serves as one of the principal rivals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Asia. Japan is an island, however, and depends upon seaborne trade routes, especially those that transit through Southeast Asia. PRC claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea (SCS) pose a direct threat to Japanese security.

Background: For the greater part of recorded history, Japan has been a rival of the PRC. All Japanese attempts to dominate the Asian mainland however, have ended in failure. The defeat of Japan during WWII decisively put an end to Japanese Imperial ambitions. Since the end of the Allied post-WWII occupation in 1952, Japan has been one of the most stalwart allies of the U.S. in Asia, and a bastion of western values. Japan is an economic powerhouse, a vibrant democracy, and possesses an extremely formidable military. For those reasons, as well as historical animosity, Japan is one of, if not the main rival, of the PRC in Asia.