Publication: Asia-Pacific Regional Security Assessment 2017
02 June 2017
Terrorism, insurgency and transnational crime remained persistent security threats in archipelagic Southeast Asia throughout 2016. While the threat of attacks and kidnappings by insurgent and hybrid terrorist-criminal groups is primarily centred on the Philippines, the existence of other capable and ideologically aligned groups, ungoverned spaces and weak state institutions in the Mindanao–Sulawesi–Sabah triangle and beyond presents a broader threat to regional security, and potentially to maritime trade. However, the increasing number of groups with connections of varying degrees to the self-styled Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the networked nature of the region’s armed groups, have catalysed a greater degree of security cooperation than has so far been the norm.
On 1 August 2016, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines signed an agreement on coordinated joint patrols in the Sulu Sea – the Sulu Sea Trilateral Initiative. It was a direct response to piracy and kidnapping activities in the maritime region. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein explained the motivations for the agreement at the IISS Fullerton Forum in January 2017: ‘Militant groups in the area have internationalised their operations across boundaries, rejecting existing state identities and allegiances and duplicating [ISIS’s] modus operandi. A united multi-state front comprising a tri-nation military force will shatter any dreams of a utopian state caliphate establishing itself in the region.’