Date
28 June 2017
A view of the Maute group stronghold with an ISIS flag  in the southern Philippines. Regional defense chiefs are worried that ISIS militants may have been pushed out of the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Photo: Reuters
A view of the Maute group stronghold with an ISIS flag in the southern Philippines. Regional defense chiefs are worried that ISIS militants may have been pushed out of the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Photo: Reuters

Southeast Asian nations join forces against terror

Regional officials are focused on terrorism as global defense chiefs debate what “America First” and China’s rise mean for Asia’s future, Bloomberg reports.

Southeast Asian defense officials who attended Asia’s most high-profile security conference in Singapore this weekend repeatedly urged cooperation to counter what they said was the growing threat of Islamic extremism in the region.

They said the risk was growing that Islamic State fighters might gravitate toward predominantly Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, and Muslim areas in the southern Philippines, as they lose ground in the Middle East.

“To me, the most immediate challenge in my mind is meeting head-on the threat of Daesh,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State.

“Real military gains have been made against Daesh in the last couple of months. This, however, gives rise to the disturbing prospect that the Asia-Pacific is now in Daesh’s crosshairs.”

Hishammuddin ranked the threat above North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and territorial disputes in the South China Sea — great-power debates that dominated speeches by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The annual gathering has often been preoccupied with questions about strategic competition between a rising China and the U.S., where the election of President Donald Trump has fueled doubts about its post-World War II commitment to the region.

The final day of the conference was overshadowed by the latest terror attack in London, which killed seven people. Concerns about Islamic extremism have long simmered in Southeast Asia, which is home to about 15 percent of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims. In the last month, the Indonesian capital Jakarta was struck by twin suicide bombings that killed three police officers, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law to fight Islamic State-linked militants in the country’s restive south.

Hishammuddin and Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu were expected to travel to Manila this week to discuss ways to improve regional cooperation against violent extremism.

The three countries are expected to begin their first joint anti-piracy patrols in the Sulu Sea on June 19, a water body that sits between them and has become a popular access point for terror groups.

Ryamizard described the patrols as a platform for greater security collaboration in the region, inviting Singapore, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations to join.

“No single country can deal with and resolve security threats independently,” he said.

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CG/RA

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