Indonesia and Malaysia, and other countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, like the Philippines, realize just how vulnerable they are. They have been on high alert for fighters returning home from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) front lines in Syria and Iraq. The group has made known its ambition to create Southeast Asian provinces of the ISIS caliphate. According to a report published by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta think-tank, Southeast Asia faces a growing risk of extremist violence to encompass the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Indonesian military is beefing up security along the nation’s sea border with the Philippines, where Islamic State-inspired militants are engaged in combat with Filipino security forces in the southern city of Marawi located in Mindanao – the island, which could potentially become a focal point for regional fighters.
According to Indonesian Armed Forces Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, «Almost in all Indonesian provinces, except for Papua, there are ISIS sleeper cells». A strategic plan of defense has been presented to Indonesian President Joko «Jokowi» Widodo. Military facilities are being built in outermost northern islands to counter terrorists invading from the Philippines. Indonesia has deployed submarines off Marore and Miangas islands along the northern end of Sulawesi Island. Military presence will be bolstered presence around the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea, Biak Island in Papua and Saumlaki Islands in Maluku.
Army Major General Ganip Warsito, a territorial military commander overseeing Sulawesi and the border with the Philippines, said, «If the Philippines wins, Indonesia would get a spill-over effect from the retreating militants, but if the Philippines loses, Mindanao would be a strong regional ISIS base that threatens Indonesia among others». So, whatever the outcome is, Indonesia will have to be combat ready.
Meanwhile, Indonesia and Malaysia are holding talks on joint actions to be taken to repel the common enemy. Indonesia has called for a conference with the Philippines and Malaysia to discuss events in Marawi. The three countries, with Singapore's assistance, will begin joint air surveillance over the Sulu Sea, using reconnaissance planes and drones, and enhance joint naval patrols. The joint maritime operations would begin on June 19. The emerging alliance of these states is a new trend shaping the security landscape in the Asia-Pacific.
There are other states of the region affected. Islamist attacks have also taken place in China and Thailand.
At the last year’s East Asia Summit (EAS) in Vientiane, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov clearly stated that signing of a comprehensive document on Asia-Pacific security is Russia’s long-term goal. According to him, «the region has no ‘umbrella structure’ that would unite all without exception, the Asia-Pacific Region states, and develop, unified for all, rules of conduct, on a non-bloc basis, of an equal and indivisible security». The EAS includes all 10 ASEAN members plus Russia, Australia, India, China, New Zealand, South Korea, the United States and Japan. Today, the regional security agenda is more focused on territorial disputes than combating international terrorism.
The 12th East Asian Summit will take place in the Philippines in November. Escalation of hostilities in the region demonstrates the need for serious discussions of the Russia-launched initiative.
Speaking at the ASEAN meeting on June 6, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said agreements on security cooperation with China and Russia are being worked out. Last month, Russia and the Philippines forged a number of security and intelligence agreements delving in security issues. During the visit, a total of 10 deals were signed, including a defense agreement and a deal to share intelligence. The defense agreement will pave the way for more exchanges between military experts and top officials. Russian President Putin discussed with President Duterte the planned cooperation on security matters at the recent Belt and Road leaders’ summit in Beijing.
Last May, Russia and Indonesia signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in defense, including transfer of technologies and joint manufacturing. The parties also agreed to expand intelligence exchange to address the terrorist threat. A contract on Indonesia purchasing Russian Su-35 fighters is being discussed.
On April 3, 2017, the Russian Federation and Malaysia celebrated an important date — the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. The meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in May last year in Sochi on the sidelines of the Russia–ASEAN summit gave strong impetus to cooperation in all spheres. The Malaysian Air Force uses modern Russian Su-30MKM warplanes.
Russia is fighting ISIS in Syria, while the countries of Southeast Asia are gearing up to repel a massive terrorist offensive as the IS loses ground in the Middle East. They have a common enemy. Russia has vast experience of fighting terrorism to share and weapons battle-tested in Syria to offer. The growing threat puts to the fore the Russia’s proposals on creating regional security organization in the region.