Southeast Asian Security Challenges: America's Response? Strategic Forum, Number 222. October 2006
NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIV WASHINGTON DC INST FOR NATIONAL STRATEGIC STUDIES
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Transnational and geopolitical challenges are shaping the security environment in Southeast Asia. Rapid economic change, actual and potential disease epidemics, and a growing sense of shared interest and grievance among the regions Islamic populations are among the regions main transnational concerns. In its most extreme form, Islamist sentiment has manifested itself in jihadist movements, including some with connections to al Qaeda. Geopolitically, Chinas rise poses a multifaceted strategic challenge to the region. For China, Southeast Asia is an arena of opportunity geographically proximate, economically attractive, and historically subordinate with influential resident Chinese populations. Southeast Asia sits astride sea lanes that are rapidly becoming Chinas energy lifeline. Moreover, Chinese security analysts see Southeast Asia as the weak link in any U.S. effort to contain China. Following 20 years of rapid economic development, Southeast Asia in the early 1990s was an increasingly vibrant, cohesive, and self-confident region. Regional institutions, notably the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN, reflected the growing sense of regional identity and shared purpose. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s produced a sudden adverse shift in the regions economic and political climate undercut ASEAN triggered political upheaval in Indonesia, the regions largest and most important country and created openings for militant Muslim groups as the fabric of political and social authority weakened. These same forces generated something akin to a power vacuum and provided a strategic opening for China that Beijing has moved skillfully to exploit. After a long period of post-Vietnam inattention, Americas security planners rediscovered Southeast Asia as a second front in the war on terror and built productive counterterrorism cooperation with most governments.
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