Researcher for the Economic Development and
Regional Integration of the Presidency of the Republic of Timor-Leste
During April 2013, the Presidency of the Republic of Timor-Leste delegated two advisors – Guteriano Neves, Adviser on Economic Development and Regional Integration, and Virgilio da Costa Babo, from the Military House. The course / workshop was attended by middle to senior level security practitioners from 48 countries, in the region. During one-month course / workshop, the participants, facilitated by the security experts on the region, discussed various security dynamic in the region; ranging from the concept of the security itself, governance, climate change, up to economic development. This notes underlines some of the important issues that I think, are contextual to Timor-Leste’s policy makers to think of, or at least to take it into consideration.
Security Dynamic in Asia-Pacific
First of all, unlike in Timor-Leste, where the security is still defined on the context of militaristic way, and institutional approach, the security in this context, refers to the conditions where people feel safe to live, their basic rights are protected, and they are secure about their future. This clearly does not mean only that the presence of the police and the military officers to do that, but it includes socio-economic, and the democratic governance where everyone is part of the development, people are secured that their basic rights are guaranteed, and their future will be better off.
In todays globalized and interdependent world, while every single state has the obligations to guarantee it, it is unavoidable that the some domestic security threats are interconnected with the transnational security threats. As such, as the core message of the course / workshop, is that it requires transnational efforts, or international cooperation to tackle present security threats. Such threats include human trafficking, drug trafficking, climate change, social inequality, poverty, terrorism, etc.
Specific for the Asia Pacific Region, it’s very dynamic regions, with various issues, ranging from Nuclear Competition to the social inequality. Historically, the region of Asia Pacific, as we know today, has always been a strategic region in the international geo-politics and geo-strategic, especially for the global power. As Bates Gill, from the Stockholm International Peace Research, in an interview with Aljazeera Channel News recently pointed out, the Asia Pacific has always been and will always be the Center of the Gravity of the world.
From the US point of view, the US current administration new policy to “re-balance” its presence in the region. As such, it appears during the course, and also through the social media, the growing of Chinese influence is a security concern for the Washington. In the context of Socio-economy, Asia Pacific is the driver of the world economic growth, amid the financial crisis that hit developed countries. China, India, Indonesia and Indonesia are leading, and they are the economic powerhouses. At the same time, as Asian Development Bank Notes, although the economy continues to grow, the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural is also widening.
In general, from the security analyst perspective, there are many security threats that are shared among the countries in the regions. Issues like Climate Change, Development Gap, so-called Terrorism and Extremism, competition between superpower, governance, poverty, arms race, territorial dispute, energy scarcity, water scarcity, food shortage, and the others, are the security issues that almost all countries are facing.
Although these are common security interests, in term of priority, it is different from one sub-region to another, even from one country to another. For the small island countries in the Pacific, the issue of Climate Change is a matter of destiny. Climate Change affects food security, demographic dynamic, water scarcity, people’s migration, and in the end, affects people’s way of life. Climate Change affects Small-Island Nations in a way where the sea level is rising and threatens the some small countries to disappear. Adding to that, natural disaster, changing in the rainfall patterns are also direct impact from the Climate Change. Aside from the Climate Change, the issue of of arms traficking, drugs trafficiking, poor govenance, resource exploitation and management, unemployment, poverty, and economic vulnerability are the security issues in the region.
South Asia has different context. South Asia consists of three-top-ten countries in term of population size. India is the second largest population, Pakistan is the sixth largest population, and Bangladesh is the 8th largest population. While India is leading the economic growth in the region, the gap between have and have-not is also widening. Violence by certain groups that by Western countries identified as “terrorist and extremists” is also another issue that has big impacts on the security dynamics in South Asia, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Climate Change is also another center issue that affects water resources, food security, natural disaster, and possibly war-related conflicts in the future. Territorial dispute between two nuclear powers; India and Pakistan, is also an issue that sometimes alarm the region.
East Asia consists of countries that have become economic powerhouses, such as China, Japan, South Korea. While economic ties among them have increased, the tensions among the states over territorial dispute, historical legacies, still remain. Tension in Korean peninsula has increased during the last year, due to nuclear issue. Beside the nation-state-conflicts, in the long run, as the economy of China continues to expands, the demand for the energy is growing. This raises another issue about energy security in the region. Aging population is another issue that threatens economic development in Japan, South Korea, as well as China.
In Southeast Asia, the transitional crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal immigrations are the main security concerns. Ineffective Governance, government in certain countries is still perceived to be corrupt and ineffective, sometimes triggers horizontal conflicts. This also has relation with the development gap between center and periphery, urban and rural, and rich and poor. Climate Change affects the region in term of water resources, increase of natural disaster, and food security. Finally, the presence of China and the US in the region are concerned by many parts as well.
Existing Regional Security Cooperation
From the explanation above, in term of security issues, many of them have transnational nature. Therefore, it requires some kinds of cooperation among countries in the region that share the same problems. Among various existing regional organizations, ASEAN is viewed as the most advanced regional cooperation so far. While originally, it was established to facilitate regional cooperation in the Southeast Asia, it has expanded significantly with various venues, such as ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN+10, and various inter-regional cooperation mechanisms.
In South Asia, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – SAARC – is considered to be the main regional cooperation venues. Beside SAARC, South Asia Free Trade Agreement – SAFTA – is another mechanism to boost economic integration in the region. Other smaller initiatives are Indus Water Treaty, India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue, Energy Cooperation – TAPI – IPI – and Trade and Transport Corridors of New Silk Route.
East Asian countries, while economically advanced, in term of economic cooperation, it’s argued the countries in the region are still far away to reach any consensus on regional security cooperation. Currently exists initiatives that focus on the East Asia are Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, and Northeast Asia Economic Forum. Territorial dispute and historical legacies as well as super powers are viewed as the sources of mistrust among them.
In Oceania, or small countries in the Pacific, Pacific Island Forum – ARF – still plays crucial roles as the main regional cooperation venue. However, since the Fiji political crisis in 2006, and the decision of the Forum over Fiji and the inception of the Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG), either directly or indirectly contribute to undermine its credibility. MSG now is viewed as alternative to the MSG which is viewed as dominated by the Australia and the New Zealand.
The course underlines some important issues that countries in the region are facing. These issues need regional or international efforts. Therefore, Timor-Leste, as a country that geographically part of the Asia Pacific, needs to be aware of them. Some of the problems that Timor-Leste is facing are also shared by many countries in the region. As such, as the core message of the course implies, it requires international cooperation to tackle them.