China can help fight ter­ror­ism in SE Asia

Bei­jing’s as­sis­tance was aimed at strength­en­ing Manila’s cam­paign against the IS group-in­spired ter­ror­ists.

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Reviews - The au­thor is an hon­orary fel­low at the Cen­ter of China-Amer­i­can De­fense Re­la­tions, PLA Academy of Mil­i­tary Science.

At the 43rd Philip­pine Busi­ness Con­fer­ence in Oc­to­ber, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte said the bul­let that killed Is­nilon Hapi­lon, Is­lamic State’s “emir” in South­east Asia, in Marawi was fired from a sniper ri­fle made in China. “It was only China who gave it on time and plenty, plenty,” he said. Among those at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence was Zhao Jian­hua, China’s am­bas­sador to the Philip­pines.

Duterte was re­fer­ring to Chi­nese mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to the Philip­pines in two ship­ments in June and Oc­to­ber, which in­cluded high-pre­ci­sion ri­fles, sniper ri­fles, au­to­matic ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion. Bei­jing’s as­sis­tance was aimed at strength­en­ing Manila’s cam­paign against the IS group-in­spired ter­ror­ists.

Rad­i­cal Is­lamic and ji­hadi groups in South­east Asia such as Je­maah Is­lamiyah, Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaida and the off­shoots of ter­ror­ist out­fits are al­most as di­ver­si­fied as the fauna in its trop­i­cal forests, but what is most alarm­ing is the speed of their rise and their af­fil­i­a­tion to the IS group. No won­der Sin­ga­porean Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong has called South­east Asia a “key re­cruit­ment area” for the IS group.

Be­sides, ever-wors­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion and vi­o­lence in Myan­mar’s Rakhine Prov­ince add to the fear that ex­treme Is­lamists from else­where in South­east Asia and be­yond might try to ex­ploit the plight of the Ro­hingya refugees for their gain. Plus, the Sulu Sea around south­west­ern Philip­pines has be­come a new haven for pi­rates and armed rob­bers. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Bureau, they were re­spon­si­ble for 71 per­cent of global in­ci­dents in 2015, and the num­ber of mar­itime kid­nap­pings last year hit a 10-year high.

China has huge stakes in the peace and sta­bil­ity of South­east Asia, as it is ASEAN’s largest trad­ing part­ner while the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions is its third-largest trad­ing part­ner. South­east Asia is also a vi­tal link in the Chi­napro­posed 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road and one of the most pop­u­lar tourist des­tina- tions among Chi­nese na­tion­als.

Also, it is vi­tal to cut off the South­east Asia route be­tween the IS group and Xin­jiang sep­a­ratists who use the re­gion as a gate­way to join the ter­ror­ist out­fit in Iraq and Syria. And a bomb ex­plo­sion in Bangkok in Au­gust 2015 that killed 27 peo­ple and left 120 in­jured was con­firmed to be a “re­venge” at­tack against the Thai gov­ern­ment for its help to China in nab­bing Xin­jiang sep­a­ratists smug­gled into Thai ter­ri­tory.

That most of the ASEAN mem­ber states have pur­chased or re­ceived through do­na­tion some kind of Chi­nese weapons to com­bat ter­ror­ists shows China can help South­east Asia fight ter­ror­ism through mil­i­tary as­sis­tance. And the fact that the largest quan­tity of the Chi­nese as­sis­tance re­quested by Duterte com­prised 6,000 ri­fles (along with bul­lets for them) in­di­cates that some coun­tries’ un­der­equipped mil­i­taries might still need such ba­sic help from China.

It is no less im­por­tant for China to help in ca­pac­ity build­ing, through mech­a­nisms such as joint train­ing, joint pa­trol, and when nec­es­sary, joint op­er­a­tion. China and Thai­land have held quite a few counter-ter­ror­ism drills at the tac­ti­cal level, which could be ex­tended to in­clude other coun­tries, and the Chi­nese and Viet­namese navies reg­u­larly pa­trol the Beibu Gulf. More­over, in re­sponse to the bru­tal killing of 13 Chi­nese sailors on the Mekong River in Oc­to­ber 2011, law en­forcers from China, Laos, Myan­mar and Thai­land con­ducted 63 joint pa­trols along the river to pre­vent at­tacks on cargo ves­sels.

Can China help com­bat mar­itime ter­ror­ism in the Sulu Sea? If the Chi­nese navy can com­bat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, why it can’t do so in a re­gion closer to China? Duterte has in­vited the Chi­nese navy to con­duct joint ex­er­cises with the Filipino navy around Min­danao and in the Sulu Sea. This is a progress from his ear­lier re­mark that he would in­vite only the Chi­nese coast guard to pa­trol there. But since joint ex­er­cises, how­ever use­ful, can­not end piracy, the on­go­ing joint pa­trol by Malaysian, In­done­sian and the Philip­pine navies is not enough to cover an area that is much larger than the Strait of Malacca cur­rently pa­trolled by four lit­toral states.

There­fore, Duterte should in­vite other ASEAN coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional navies, in­clud­ing the Chi­nese navy, to con­duct joint pa­trols there. Re­mem­ber, it took the navies of more than 20 coun­tries al­most five years to keep the pi­rates at bay in the Gulf of Aden and So­mali Basin.

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