Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

ASIAN SECURITY: The Impact of the Asian Economic Crisis

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

ASIAN SECURITY: The Impact of the Asian Economic Crisis

Article excerpt

Stuart McMillan finds a less benign and more uncertain outlook in Asia a year after the onset of its economic woes.

Before the onset of the East Asian economic crisis, the consensus among strategic analysts was that the security situation in the region was benign with some uncertainties. The region had suffered nothing of the scale of the convulsions that parts of Europe had suffered at the end of the Cold War. The region's economies included some which were among the world's most vibrant, and the hope was that it was only a matter of time before those which were lagging would also make the remarkable progress enjoyed by the earlier starters. There were tensions, but they were largely latent. These included a number of competing claims for islands in the South China Sea, a handful of localised ethnic conflicts, the more serious strains on the Korean peninsula, tensions over East Timor, a few strains between or among South-east Asian states, and some separatist claims. More fundamentally, though not necessarily more threateningly, there was uncertainty about China's intentions and the possibility of the development of intense rivalry between China and the United States. Taiwan represented perhaps the most serious threat to stability in the region. Russia and Japan had not settled their Northern Territories dispute, but even the pessimist had to be of a cataclysmic cast of mind to think that would end in open conflict. To the west, India and Pakistan maintained, but generally contained, their anger about Kashmir and were understood to be nuclear threshold states. The underpinning for security was the US presence in the region; the developing security framework was the ASEAN Regional Forum, which helped to engage China constructively in the region. The state of security was not ideal, but it was manageable and auspicious.

The economic crisis has directly affected aspects of security, in some cases as the main cause, in some as a contributing factor. This article lists seven changes directly related to the economic crisis, looks at security changes not directly related to economic factors, and in its conclusion examines the implications of the changes for security in Asia.

Seven examples

The first direct causal link between economics and security is the effect on cross-border migration and migrant workers. The economic problems increased unemployment and income inequality and this led, on the one hand, to greater pressures to migrate and, on the other, to restrictions in the target countries. South-east Asia had about 2 million migrant workers, some legal some illegal, more concentrated in Thailand and Malaysia than elsewhere. Malaysia and Thailand engaged in major repatriation programmes. Malaysia did not renew work permits for some legal migrants. Singapore caned a number of illegal migrants it sent back. The aim has been to preserve jobs for citizens of their own countries. The International Organisation for Migration estimated during September 1998 that there were still a million migrant workers in Thailand and more than 700,000 in Malaysia.

The mass movement of people has long been a security concern. On the whole Malaysia seemed to conduct its repatriation without causing undue tension between itself and the countries from which the migrants came. However, refugee camps close to the Thailand-Burma border were attacked by both Burmese troops and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. Repatriated workers can also well the numbers of disaffected in their own countries and add to social unrest. The increased policing to prevent illegal migration leads to a general increase in security measures, particularly in border areas.

Secondly, the economic crisis has led to considerable social unrest, most pronounced in, but not confined to, Indonesia. In that country it brought the main divides in society to the surface: the Pribumi (Sons of the soil)-non-indigenous (mainly Chinese) divide, the Muslim-non-Muslim divide, and the rich-poor divide. …

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