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Edited by Andrew T.H. Tan

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Andrew T.H. Tan

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Andrew T.H. Tan

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Andrew T.H. Tan

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Edited by Andrew T.H. Tan

This timely and significant book seeks to explain the deep-seated complexities of terrorism and insurgency in Southeast Asia. In the aftermath of 9/11, this region has been designated by the United States to be the ‘second front’ in the war on terrorism. Yet despite the emergence of this ‘new’ global terrorism, the authors argue that armed rebellion in Southeast Asia is a phenomenon that predates Al Qaeda and the global Jihadist movement and that much can be learned from the motivations behind it.
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Andrew T.H. Tan

The centre of the global economy today resides in Asia, not Europe or North America. According to the International Monetary Fund, Asia in 2016 accounted for 40 per cent of global GDP (Lagarde 2016). As Asia also accounts for much of global economic growth in recent years, developments in the region are therefore central to the global economic outlook and for formulating policies around the world (IMF 2015: 1). Asia’s remarkable economic rise is led by China, which had a GDP of around US$11.4 trillion in 2016, making it the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Despite economic stagnation since the 1990s, Japan in 2016 remained the world’s third largest economy, with a GDP of about US$4.7 trillion. Other significant economic powerhouses in Asia include India and South Korea (IMF 2016). The trend is quite clear: Asia is on course to regain the dominant economic position it held before the Industrial Revolution in Europe (ADB n.d.). The maintenance of stability in Asia has therefore become pivotal to global stability; conversely, regional instability will have deep, global consequences. Since the surrender of Japan in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, the United States has been deeply engaged in Asia, and has maintained a form of hegemony over the region, though its failure in the Vietnam War demonstrated the limits of its dominance. The US role has been mostly seen as positive, at least to its allies and the non-communist states in Asia, as it has, through its hubs and spokes system of alliances and military presence, exercised sufficient power to maintain general stability in the region. In turn, this has facilitated Asia’s economic rise (Beeson 2011).

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Andrew T.H. Tan

While President Obama correctly identified Asia as being the most important region in the world for the future of the United States, and his Asia Pivot (or ‘rebalancing’) is meant to shore up its dominant position in Asia, there are significant challenges in doing so. Domestically, there has been rising isolationism, a backlash against free trade, calls for ‘restraint’ in US foreign engagements and the growing pressure on the US budget as a result of its economic problems. Externally, there is a long list of security issues and challenges in the region, including and especially the rise of China. While the new Trump administration’s foreign policy towards Asia remains unclear, the loss of the United States’ position in Asia would have very serious long-term political, strategic and economic consequences for it as well as for the stability of the region.

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Andrew T.H. Tan

The January 2016 elections in Taiwan, which was won by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), have diminished the prospects for reunification with China. This, together with China’s growing economic and military power, as well as rising confidence and nationalism, have meant that the prospects of China using force to resolve the Taiwan problem has increased. However, any resort to coercion or military force by China would carry grave risks for it, as despite isolationist sentiments that underpinned Trump’s election, there is a high probability that the US would react to any attempt to coerce or attack Taiwan, given the anti-China mood in the US Congress. This could lead to uncertain consequences, such as an uncontrolled escalation into all-out conflict between the two great powers. It is thus in China’s interest to pursue peaceful means towards reunification and avoid any precipitate action that could upset the current order. It is also in the United States’ interest to remain actively engaged in the region in order to maintain stability.

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Andrew T.H. Tan

Terrorism in Asia, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, remains a serious and growing security challenge, especially given the rise of the Islamic States since 2014. The linkages with global terrorism and the severity of the terrorism challenge means that the United States remains an indispensable security and political partner for the affected countries, particularly Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Comprehensive approaches to counter-terrorism, however, require enormous capacity and resources, as well as a long-term perspective. This, and the fact that the terrorism challenge is a long-term challenge in these countries, mean that the role of the United States will also be enduring, sustained through continued counterterrorism cooperation. An important strategic benefit of the United States’ involvement in regional counterterrorism is that this also increases its security and political roles in both South and Southeast Asia. In turn, this strengthens and sustains the United States’ position in Asia.