Admiral Sun Jianguo, Chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies，General Cai Yingting, Chairman of the China Association for Military Science, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be standing here before you at the Xiangshan Forum, a gathering that brings together important stakeholders to discuss the major issues of our time.
I have had the privilege of attending the forum for a number of years now and, each time, I have been struck by the insights shared and the level of discussion that inevitably follows.
Now in its seventh year, there can be no doubt that the Xiangshan Forum plays a significant role promoting peace across the region – and indeed the world – by helping us build ever stronger relationships and trust, as well as developing a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities each of us faces.
I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to share my own thoughts with you and would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to our hosts, Admiral Sun Jianguo, Chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies, and General Cai Yingting, Chairman of the China Association for Military Science, for giving me the opportunity to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I read that the theme for this forum was “Building a New Type of International Relations through Security Dialogue and Cooperation”, my first thought was that this was a particularly relevant topic for our time.
We live in an era where the international geo-political landscape is constantly changing, with the demise of the Cold War and the 9/11 attacks in New York serving as two of the seminal moments that have driven this change.
The latter, of course, represented a major shift in terms of the security challenges the international community faces. Indeed, it was symbolic of the rise of non-state actors, who have the determination and ability to make a global impact.
Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that the manner in which State and Non-State Actors interact has changed significantly, with national and collective interests encompassing a wider range of areas from security to environmental protection.
Despite these marked changes, I think it is premature and foolish to predict the end of Nation States as some have. Indeed, I believe the role of Governments and the Nation States they represent is increasingly important, in helping to build alliances and enter into agreements that help further global society’s collective interests.
This is particularly true given the shift from the ‘Bloc’ mentality of the Cold War to what we have today – a time where nations recognize their shared interests and the importance of pursuing a more consensual approach in order to achieve their individual, and collective, objectives.
Indeed, the Zero Sum Game, applied extensively during the Cold War, has been replaced by more pragmatic methods of interaction, especially in the form of dialogue and cooperation between our nations.
Never has this model of cooperation been more crucial than today, not only due to the increasingly interconnected state of the world, but also due to the unique and historically unparalleled challenge we face from the advent of global terrorism.
While terrorism takes many forms, few would argue that the threat posed by groups driven by religious extremism is one of the great challenges of our time. The most prominent amongst these terrorist groups is Daesh which, despite suffering recent setbacks, still controls considerable swathes of territory in countries such as Libya, Syria and Iraq.
Despite the fact that its on-the-ground presence is limited to the Middle East, Daesh is truly international, with the group believed to have affiliations with no less than 43 terrorist organizations globally, 12 of which originate from Asia.
Furthermore, according to a report by the United Nations, there are believed to be a total of about 25,000 foreign nationals from 100 countries fighting for the group, many of whom are recruited through social media.
Unfortunately, individuals from our region of Southeast Asia too have joined their ranks, with Daesh having an armed unit – Katibah Nusantara – which comprises approximately 700 fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. A number of Singaporeans too are suspected to have been radicalized and recruited by this unit.
To date, Daesh and its affiliates have claimed a total of more than 60 terrorist attacks worldwide this year, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths and thousands of other casualties. While many of these attacks were carried out in the Middle East, others took place outside of Daesh’s Area of Operations, for instance in Europe, Africa and Asia.
A large percentage of these terrorist attacks were conducted, I would say, in conjunction with conventional operations launched by Daesh regular forces such as capturing and holding ground while the rest were aimed at targets outside their Area of Operation especially in Europe, Africa and Asia either by cells or lone wolves.
My own country, Malaysia, is not immune from this threat and we suffered our first Daesh-related attack in June 2016 when terrorists threw grenades into an entertainment center in Kuala Lumpur causing injury to 8 people.
In order to further incapacitate Daesh’s propaganda and radicalisation efforts, Malaysia with the help of other nations, has developed the following:
a. A Counter Messaging Centre has been developed to provide alternative narratives in order to neutralise propagandas sent by Daesh through the social media and messaging systems.
b. The establishment of a Deradicalization Centre to allow the Government to deradicalize suspected returnees and individuals who are believed to be targeted by Daesh.
c. The formulation of various laws such as the Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) and Foreign Fighters Act to oppose attempts to spread terrorism and recruitment of Malaysian by terrorist groups.
d. The conduct of the Multinational Counter-Terrorist Exercise in 2015 consisting of military and police force from 11 nations.
As mentioned earlier, concerted efforts have been concentrated by various coalitions groups to eliminate or reduce Daesh’s hold in its Area of Operations. These measures have resulted in loss of territories, revenues and man power which has weakened the terrorist group and may compel its members to return to their countries of origin. This influx of returnees, especially in Southeast Asia, would create another danger where they may network and collaborate with their ex-comrades to trigger acts of terrorism in the region as an extension of their original cause.
This phenomenon was evident in the early 2000 where returnees from the Afghanistan conflict formed the Jemaah Islamiyah and started a wave or terrorist attacks in the region.
Another consequence of Daesh’s losses in the Middle East would be striking collaboration with criminal groups to gain income from unlawful activities such as kidnapping for ransom (as being done by Daesh affiliate Abu Sayyaf Group), trafficking of drugs in conjunction with the various cartels and the illicit sales of priceless antiques in the black market from their captured territories.
These are some of the extent in which Daesh have undertaken or may take on as a result of their losses. For that, East Asia, especially Southeast Asia remains a potential target for militancy and terrorism.
Daesh’s ability to launch attacks in capitals around the world has altered the nature of international relations and, every day, we see evidence of how the threat posed by this terrorist group has compelled State and Non-State Actors to embrace a more collaborative approach on the international stage.
For instance; via intelligence sharing, joint military action by countries from different parts of the world, or efforts to counter the corrupted religious narratives produced by Daesh to gain popular support.
One tangible example of the strategic collaboration taking place is the formation of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, with 39 member states including Malaysia, and aims to formulate strategies to counter the threat of Daesh worldwide.
The areas being looked at range from ideology and information to finance and military cooperation – all with the aim of producing comprehensive and holistic solutions to destroy Daesh’s terrorist machinery.
Key to this is the formulation and dissemination of counter-narratives based on true and moderate religious thoughts; starving Daesh of financial support by restricting transfer of funds via the internet to the terrorist group; establishing de-radicalization mechanisms for suspected extremists; and monitoring the movement of citizens who are suspected of travelling to countries in the Daesh Area of Operations with a view to joining the group.
It is these measures, driven by international cooperation, that have resulted in Daesh’s recent set-backs, with new data showing that the group has lost more than a quarter of the territory it once controlled.
Ladies and gentlemen,
While international relations today is dominated by the pursuance of national or group interests vis-a-vis competing states or groups, we were until recently oblivious to the threat posed by Daesh, or what some would describe as the first truly international terrorist group – Al-Qaeda. This afforded them the space and opportunity to expand their influence globally.
Looking at the spread of Daesh attacks worldwide, no nation is insulated from its threat, and unless strong measures are taken collectively, they may attack with impunity anywhere and everywhere. Whatever measures that one country takes to counter terrorism will never be enough. These measures must be augmented or strengthened by collaboration with other countries. As a result, both State and Non-State Actors have re-evaluated their outlook on the world. This has led to a new, greater, form of collaboration across a broader spectrum of areas between countries.
I am pleased to say that last year China and Malaysia held their first joint military exercises, and we have pledged to deepen defence cooperation.
That is one example, and I am also glad to see that the 7th Xiangshan Forum has included ‘International Terrorist Threats and Countermeasures’ as a topic of deliberation. I am sure that Malaysia and China can learn and gain from working each other in this area.
For I believe that there are many lessons to be taken here, not only from the forum, but from China itself – a country that has experienced its share of terrorist attacks.
In the true spirit of learning, unlearning and relearning from these experiences, China formulated one of most comprehensive security measures for the Olympic Games in 2008, which could be used as a model for counter-terrorism preparations at major global events.
Similarly, we have observed with interest and appreciation China’s strong participation in efforts to counter terrorist threats regionally and globally.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The prerequisites for successful collaboration against terrorism – namely transparency in deliberations, adherence to international norms and practices, engaging members as equals, and taking into account varied national interests – is applicable to all international engagements, whether against Traditional or Non-Traditional Security challenges.
It is therefore my hope that this collective spirit to protect sovereignty and preserve human security will, overtime, broaden out to other issues afflicting our world especially the Asia Pacific region.
I would again like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Liberation Army, the Institute for Strategic Studies and the China Association for Military Science for inviting me to deliver this address.
I wish all the participants of the 7th Xiangshan Forum a rewarding time in Beijing.