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Our Region (Spotlight Brief 2/21)

28 April 2021
Australian Army officer, Lieutenant Amy Rowlings attends the Easter Sunday Church service at the Church of Christ Sarabetu, Port Vila.

An analysis of counterterrorism measures taken by Indonesia since the 2002 Bali bombings

Source: The Pacific Review – Jul 20

As much as a shock that the Bali bombings of 2002 were to Australians, the event and its long-term impact were even greater for the Indonesians. Coming at the start of the US ‘War on Terror’, there was significant pressure on Jakarta from Washington and Canberra to reform their domestic security posture and crack down on terrorist groups and supporters. Nearly 19 years on, Kathrin Rucktäschel and Christoph Schuck’s work looks at the counterterrorism measures taken and their long term effectiveness. They find some long term success, notably the establishment of the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (National Counter Terrorism Agency) and the police force’s success with establishing a criminal justice model for the fight. With jurisdictional squabbles between the police and military as background, Rucktäschel and Schuck find three key concerns: a lack of will to be those responsible for coordinating CT responses; the questionable success of pre-emptive de-radicalisation programs, and a disconnect between the State’s means of fighting terrorism and the principles of a democratic, constitutional State.


‘Terror cells in Indonesia continue to recruit and plot attacks amid COVID-19’, Channel News Asia, 18 Jan 21

‘IS replication in Indonesia and counterterrorism after the Sigi attack’, East Asia Forum, 09 Jan 21

‘Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiah still ‘massively’ sowing seeds of radicalism’, The Australian, 22 Dec 20

‘Indonesia, Australia boost bilateral ties in counterterrorism, security’, The Jakarta Post, 28 Oct 20

‘Indonesia's 'Soft Approach' against Terrorism Vetoed by US, So What's Next?’, Jakarta Globe, 18 Sep 20

Disaster governance and prospects of interregional partnership in the Asia-Pacific

Source: The Pacific Review – Nov 2020

Consistently in various reports and reviews, most notably the World Risk Report, Oceania has the highest risk of natural disasters. Half of the top ten ‘most at risk countries’ lie within Australia’s region. This is of ongoing and significant impact to Australia and the ADF as the ADF is one of the few organisations in the region with the ability to react rapidly and comprehensively to needs arising from humanitarian and disaster response (HADR). In this article, Alistair D. B. Cook and Christopher Chen explore what intergovernmental organisations conduct disaster response within south-east Asia and the south-west Pacific to see if there is any scope for partnership. They find, despite some internal challenges, it is possible for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to develop an inter-regional partnership that builds on pre-existing elements. Notwithstanding the possible impact of recent internal tensions within the PIF, the potential of such partnership is of interest for all agencies involved in regional HADR.


‘Humanitarian preparedness and response’, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 21 Dec 20

‘WorldRiskReport 2020’, Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, 2020

‘Southeast Asia-China cooperation in disaster management in post-COVID era’, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Sep 20

‘Tackling Regional Climate Change Impacts and Food Security Issues: A Critical Analysis across ASEAN, PIF, and SAARC’, Sustainability, Jan 20

‘ASEAN Vision 2025 on Disaster Management’, ASEAN, 25 Jan 18

Engagement of China and India in the Western Indian Ocean littoral and island states of East Africa

Source: Journal of the Indian Ocean Region – Mar 2021

While Australian’s place significant focus on Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific, we sometimes are forgetful we are an Indo-Pacific state, and may overlook the first half of that phrase. The Indian Ocean is a vital area of interest for Australia, providing vital trade access to the Middle East and Europe as well as offering a key flank to our Southeast Asian partners. Aparajita Biswas, using the example of increasing Chinese and Indian presence and tension, offers an extremely thorough article introducing issues with the Indian Ocean islands and Eastern Africa. She touches on the role of the Indian Navy, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the competition between Indian private and Chinese public companies providing investment. Of note, the competition for influence seen in our eastern sphere of interest is occurring to a similar level and extent in the west.


‘It is time to reimagine the Indian Ocean’, Hindustan Times, 30 Mar 21

‘What Is Happening in the Indian Ocean?’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 03 Mar 21

‘Countering Chinese assertiveness: India’s changing posture in the Indian Ocean’, Observer Research Foundation, 02 Jan 21

‘Seychelles in crosshairs of India's maritime security axis?’, Nikkei Asia, 11 Dec 20

‘Western Indian Ocean: Where trouble on land spells danger at sea’, The Interpreter, 29 Oct 20

The Elusive Quest for an ‘Asian NATO’

Source: Strategic Analysis – Dec 20

NATO stands as one of the great defensive alliances of history, providing a significant political and military bulwark against an authoritative power. With the rise of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, there has often been discussions about an Asian equivalent of NATO. What this discussion overlooks, and Dr Jagannath Panda makes clear, is that there are three underlying concepts that pundits appear to miss: geography, security and economy. The first relates to the sheer size of the Indo-Pacific region. Conservatively Western Europe is only 30% the size of Asia or a mere 10% the size of the Indo-Pacific. To generate a clear, focused defensive strategy over such an area with that many nations would be a challenge, even assuming there was agreement on a common threat. Which leads to Dr Panda’s second point: who would the Asian NATO be defending against? Member nations of the hypothetical organisation have many more security challenges (including with each other) than NATO has faced. While an ‘obvious’ answer may be China, the reality is that the economic relationship with China for Asian nations is much more complex than any Western European nation had with the USSR. China is a major, and essential, trading partners for many nations. The final sticking point Panda highlights is the cost: Asian nations do not have the expenditure vs threat perception Western Europe had to raise a NATO-esque organisation.


‘Meeting of leaders signals the ‘Quad’ grouping will become central part of the U.S. strategy in Asia’, The Washington Post, 14 Mar 21

‘Propelling 'Asian NATO' beyond US capacity’, Global Times, 13 Mar 21

‘Vietnam’s Sole Military Ally’, The Diplomat, 21 Dec 20

‘Is the Asia-Pacific Big Enough for ASEAN and the Quad?’, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 12 Nov 20

‘Japan's Suga dismisses concern over ‘Asian NATO’ in Indo-Pacific’, in The Jakarta Post, 22 Oct 20

Disruptors’ dilemma? Thailand’s 2020 Gen Z protests

Source: Critical Asian Studies – 02 Mar 21

Street protests within Thailand have been a fact since the 1950s, often with the military stepping in to restore order. This has become almost ritualised, with two common themes present since 2005: the red-yellow shirt divide, and a consistent veneration of the monarchy. In 2020, while the world was focused on COVID, these two themes were shattered, as the Thai political scene saw an unprecedented swell of anger from those under 25. These efforts, while disjointed, were widespread and saw at least 385 protests, led by 112 groups, across 62 of the nation’s 77 provinces in less than six months. The article notes this behaviour is at odds with that seen in other mass movements, such as the Arab Spring. It may also mark emergence in how Thailand’s political movements function.


‘Thailand’s Military Personnel Challenge in the Spotlight with Slimming Plan’, The Diplomat, 16 Mar 21

‘Behind the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership’, East Asia Forum, 27 Jan 21

‘Where is Thailand's protest movement heading?’, Deutsche Welle, 27 Jan 21

‘Thailand Protests at a Tipping Point’, The Diplomat, 17 Nov 20

‘Thailand: Military, monarchy and the masses’, The Interpreter, 28 Oct 20

The Belt and Road comes to Papua New Guinea

Source: Security Challenges – Nov 20

Discussion of the PRC’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is widespread  but there is little detail on what the meaningful change on the ground is for nations. Here, the former director of the AARC, Peter Connolly looks at Papua New Guinea before, during and after the joining of the BRI. He highlights that it is not a simple concept, and while not a win—win as Beijing portrays it as, there is a common view that China is the only nation offering the infrastructure upgrades that PNG desperately needs. Connolly draws heavily upon local interviews, increasing the veracity of his work. He finds that since joining, and especially since COVID, PNG and the other Melanesian States have started to display a nascent assertiveness in standing up to unfair Chinese encroachments as well as a more wide-eyed understanding of the non-economic costs that the BRI imposes. There are still issues of corruption and disconnects at various levels, PNG voting to support China’s crackdown on Hong Kong being offered as an example), but the lessons and the views raised by Connolly are vital to those seeking to understand our region or China.


‘Next step in the step up: The ADF's role in building health security in Pacific Island states’, ASPI, 08 Apr 21

‘Economic diplomacy: Deploying soft power and the future of trade’, The Interpreter, 25 Mar 21

‘Development assistance in Papua New Guinea’, Department of Foreign Affairs, 24 Mar 21

‘Fiji and PNG: no room to move on COVID-19’, Devpolicy Blog, 25 Feb 21

‘Belt and Road brings China to PNG and our doorstep’, The Australian, 05 Feb 21

Uneasy embrace: Vietnam’s responses to the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy amid U.S.–China rivalry

Source: The Pacific Review – Mar 21

Traditionally, Vietnam follows an isolationist path for its strategy, preferring to share interests but not commit to alliances (beyond Laos). Furthermore, for most of their modern history they have been at war or under significant tension with the US. Despite that, the past decade has seen real strides in Vietnam partnering with the US for regional stability. This article reviews Vietnam’s approach to the US-proposed Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), and how it has elected to respond. This response has not been predictable, it is much more receptive to the FOIP than may be first thought and yet it simultaneously will not provide its full support. This approach has seen Hanoi select which parts of the FIOP it will prioritise, allowing a deft navigation of Great Power rivalries while maintaining national identify and keeping positive relationships with other neighbours.


‘U.S., Vietnam Interests ‘Aligned’ Amid Some Tensions, Says U.S. Envoy’, Bloomberg, 05 Mar 21

‘Is Vietnam open to Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy?’, East Asia Forum, 04 Mar 21

‘What Does Vietnam Want from the US in the South China Sea?’, The Diplomat, 04 Jan 21

‘Caught between giants — How will ASEAN operationalise its centrality in the Indo-Pacific?’, Observer Research Foundation, 28 Dec 20

‘Vietnam’s Sole Military Ally’, The Diplomat, 21 Dec 20

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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