The Philippines’ top defense official said on Friday that the Indo-Pacific region, while seemingly calm, is a potential flashpoint for conflict if security issues are not properly addressed.
He also sees the region as having nations vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made this comment during an online Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies forum titled “70 Years of the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)” on Thursday afternoon.
“The Indo-Pacific region is relatively small, but beneath this calm surface, are issues between and among nations that if not managed properly could ignite open hostilities,” he added.
He added that these issues and challenges are beyond the capacity of one nation to solve and thus, the need for multilateral approach for possible resolution.
“First is the age-old-territorial disputes. Everybody is familiar with the disputes in the Senkaku Islands between Japan, the South China Sea among four nations of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China, the Sabah issue between the Philippines and Malaysia, and the boundary dispute between India and China,” he added.
He said another is the presence of homegrown terrorists who have easy access to and from neighboring countries and also are aided by imported terrorists.
“We consider terrorism as a major security threat, because more than any other country in the region, the Philippines has perhaps suffered the most from terrorist attacks.
The most recent of which is the suicide bombing of the Jolo Cathedral in January 2019,” Lorenzana said.
Around 21 people were killed and 111 others were wounded in this attack which was allegedly perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf and their allies on Jan. 27, 2019.
“Third is China’s long dream of unification with Taiwan. This has the potential to create a major conflagration with the possible involvement of the United States,” Lorenzana said.
North Korea’s nuclear arms program, he said, continues to be a great concern to its neighboring countries like South Korea, Japan, and the region as a whole.
“Fifth is the proliferation of drugs, no country in the region is free of this scourge. Drugs respect no boundaries,” Lorenzana said.
Another is the extraction of resources like underwater hydrocarbons and water resources.
“An example is the drilling of oil in the South China Sea, and the use of the Mekong River which passes through five Asian nations,” he added.
The seventh point are transnational crimes like trafficking of people, especially women and children and the illegal sales of weapons and ammunition.
“Eighth, automation. With the speed of technological advances, it was reported by the World Bank that about 50 million people in Southeast Asia will lose their jobs to machines in the next decade,” Lorenzana said.
He also mentioned the effect of climate change where rising sea levels have displaced millions of people living in small islands and low-lying coastal areas.
“There are many other issues and concerns but these are the major ones that can cause a lot of problems for all concerned,” the DND chief said.