A troubled world and Asia-Pacific security risks and challenges

IT is no joke, but we are in the most dangerous geopolitical and economic situation since 1945. The year 2024 begins with a significant conflict in Gaza involving the Israel-Palestine dispute, underscoring the ongoing challenges in achieving peace, and the rising toll in terms of human lives and displacement.

Critical geopolitical issues currently impacting the world include many conflicts, tensions and challenges. The Ukraine crisis, a hybrid proxy war between the United States and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies against Russia, Ukraine being the proxy, continues to be a significant military conflict, with both military and civilian casualties. Likewise, the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly the war in Gaza, has had significant impacts on the regional economy, security situation and, by extension, the global economy.

The escalation of these military conflicts not only adversely impacts the global economy and poses significant risks to global economic stability and security, mainly through its potential to disrupt global energy supplies and markets, but most importantly, has led to severe and devastating humanitarian crises.

The destruction and the humanitarian crises in Gaza particularly have reached levels described as “unimaginable,” with a substantial portion of widespread displacement, a catastrophic humanitarian crisis tantamount to genocide and disastrous long-term developmental consequences expected to set back progress in the Palestinian territories.

The Asia-Pacific region may be far from the loci of the military conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Nonetheless, what’s happening in these parts of the world is affecting the region and the rest of the world without exception.

The key question now for most Asians and Filipinos, in particular, is, would we allow a similar major military conflict or war to gain a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region?

Security crises and flash points

Regarding the Asia-Pacific, the security crises are multifaceted, reflecting the region’s complex geopolitical landscape. Primarily, the region is facing the intricacies of China’s peaceful rise as a regional power and the impact this has on the existing security structure. The debates within the region reflect concerns over how the United States, with its hegemonic power, will exercise its influence.

The Asia-Pacific security assessment has pointed to the escalating great-power rivalry and competition and the implications of more competitive Sino-American relations, the Asia-Pacific region being the battleground.

Likewise, several flash points or specific geopolitical areas or issues have the potential to trigger conflicts or escalate existing tensions, posing risks to regional peace, security and stability. These flash points involve territorial disputes, historical grievances, strategic rivalries and resource competition. These include the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula.

Korean Peninsula

The security of Northeast Asia, for instance, is currently under strain due to the actions of regional actors such as North Korea with its missile tests and military provocations. There is growing concern in South Korea over the North’s military capabilities, leading to discussions about South Korea potentially pursuing nuclear weapons development for its defense.

The limited success of the diplomatic efforts to peace initiatives and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and the lack of progress in dialogue between North and South Korea have left little hope for a change in the status quo, posing a more significant risk of miscalculation or escalation into armed conflict. This remains a critical concern for regional and global peace and security.

Taiwan Strait

Moreover, the Asia-Pacific region is also grappling with the volatility of the Taiwan Strait situation, which is another critical flash point centering on the status of Taiwan and its relationship with China, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force, if necessary, as the last resort to achieve reunification, if external powers interfere in the internal affairs of China concerning the status of Taiwan.

The increasing military activities by China, which more often than not send aircraft and ships near Taiwan, as provoked by the United States and its conduct of freedom of navigation operations whereby US warships sail around the Taiwan Strait areas and adjacent waters, the arms sales to Taiwan, have escalated tensions. The potential for conflict in the Taiwan Strait poses significant risks to regional peace and stability, and could involve major powers in a broader confrontation.

In retrospect, amid the critical situation of the Taiwan Strait, the Philippines, strategically located in Southeast Asia, is getting dragged into the conflict. The volatility and tensions between China and the US over Taiwan place the Philippines in a delicate position due to its geographic proximity to Taiwan, strategic interests, security alignments and military ties, particularly with the US.

Under the incumbent administration in the Philippines, this involvement seems to be an active choice rather than a consequence of its strategic location and military alliances with the US, as exemplified by allowing the installation of an additional four US military bases through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on top of the five existing EDCA-US military bases, some of which are near and facing Taiwan, which have implications for its national security, economic interests and foreign policy.

Note that EDCA further allows US troops’ rotational presence in the country and the pre-positioning of US military assets, increasing the likelihood of the Philippines being directly or indirectly involved in the Taiwan Strait security issues.

Hence, any potential outbreak of a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait could lead to heightened security threats for the Philippines, including the possibility of it becoming a target or a staging ground for military operations, which is disadvantageous for the Philippines in every respect. As tensions in the Taiwan Strait continue to simmer, the Philippines must carefully assess its strategic interests to safeguard its national security and economic prosperity.

South China Sea

On the other hand, the potential instability in Southeast Asia is compounded by nontraditional transnational security challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, pandemic disease, terrorism and cybercrime. On traditional security concerns, the SCS maritime and territorial dispute is a challenge that continues to be a significant concern for China and the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. It is a considerable flash point involving Asean claimant countries like the Philippines and China. The situation in the SCS remains a complex security issue in Asia.

Philippines-China dynamics in the disputed waters of the SCS, the Philippines being more assertive, and China’s countermeasures and responses to the Philippines reflect broader regional concerns about the prospects of peace, security and stability of the SCS. Incidents such as the collision between Philippine and Chinese vessels near Second Thomas Shoal exacerbate tensions and underscore the need for a comprehensive and effective Code of Conduct (COC) for the SCS.

Nevertheless, the exacerbation of tensions in the SCS is also because of the “external interference” from external powers, for one, the US. As far as the stability of the SCS is concerned, it is a paramount and primary responsibility of regional countries and not of outside powers. It is expected that Asean countries and China, while eager to maintain their sovereignty and regional stability, need a binding COC to manage the disputes effectively. Indeed, navigating how to peacefully and diplomatically settle the dispute in the SCS is a paramount concern for all claimant states.


Indeed, amid these geopolitical realities, the need for international cooperation and developing a security architecture that respects the region’s diversity is becoming increasingly apparent. This is precisely because the stability of the Asia-Pacific region holds global significance, given its economic dynamism and strategic location. The complexities of the Asia-Pacific’s security environment require a nuanced approach that balances national sovereignty with broader regional stability and development goals, underscoring the responsibility of policymakers, diplomats and scholars to advocate and promote peace and security.

Source: The Manila Times

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.