Since the end of WW2, the culturally and religiously diverse nations of East and Southeast Asia have managed their internal conflicts well. Sustained, debilitating violence was largely absent, with only low-level insurgencies in Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines, the borderlands of Myanmar and southernmost Thailand. Also, Asian Islam has long been the most moderate form of the religion worldwide. The resulting stability is one key reason the region has become the world’s primary engine of economic growth the past decade-plus.
Now, in its intensifying drive to contain China, the US-centered Empire has apparently begun serious efforts to destabilize the more vulnerable areas of eastern Asia. Until very recently, ISIS, widely thought to be enabled and funded by the US and its ally Saudi Arabia, was not a noticeable element in the region. Now it is active in the Philippines, wreaking mayhem in Mindanao and posing a big headache for President Rodrigo Duterte, who is friendly to both Moscow and Beijing. Explaining his decision to declare martial law in Mindanao, the Philippine leader said no less than ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered the attacks on his country.
ISIS is also stirring in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country with an 80%-Muslim population. The terror group claimed responsibility for a recent bombing and has been linked with a revival of the dark Islamist fundamentalism that brought down Ahok, the popular, ethnic-Chinese governor of Jakarta.
The Saudis are successfully exporting their extremist worldview into the bedrock nation of Southeast Asia. Reports the Boston Globe:
“Many students come from the more than 100 boarding schools Saudi Arabia supports in Indonesia, or have attended one of the 150 mosques that Saudis have built there. The most promising are given scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia, from which they return fully prepared to wreak social, political, and religious havoc in their homeland.”
The Empire and its allies may also be targeting the simmering insurgencies on Myanmar’s borders with China, possibly a reason Aung San Suu Kyi has once again aligned her country closer to Beijing. The restive Muslims of Xinjiang and the Tibetans have long received assistance from the US-led imperium, though China is well prepared to cope with those cases.
Asian nations and peoples need to be highly vigilant, ready to repulse such nefarious intrusions. If the Empire succeeds in creating chaos in eastern Asia, like it has in western and southern Asia, the economic and geopolitical consequences will not only hit the region hard. They will also blow back on the rest of the world.