Accessibility links

Expert: Disease Replaces Political Conflict as Asia's Greatest Security Threat


An Asia expert says disease and natural disasters may pose a greater security threat to the region than conventional political conflicts.

The Asia Pacific Security Outlook is an annual survey of all security concerns facing Asia, from North Korea's nuclear weapons programs to Chinese relations with the United States and Taiwan.

Speaking in Hong Kong Friday, the report's editor, Charles Morrison, said the primary regional threat for the second half of the year is non-military and non-traditional.

Mr. Morrison, president of the Honolulu-based East-West Center, says disease and natural disasters threaten the entire Asia Pacific region, with potentially catastrophic results.

The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, started in Southern China in late 2002 and eventually spread around world, killing 774 people before it was brought under control. The chief disease threat these days is Avian Flu.

Mr. Morrison says bird flu is already established in bird populations across Southeast Asia, and concerns are mounting that it could become easily transmissible between humans, sparking a deadly pandemic. "If there is a jump, there's no immunity to this kind of virus," he noted. "It's totally unknown what the losses could be - it could be one million, 10 million, it could be 100 million."

About 60 people have already died of bird flu in scattered cases in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia since early 2004. Mr. Morrison says a full-scale outbreak would close borders and stop international trade.

What is needed, he says, is a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to protecting public health. He says Southeast Asia has to start sharing information and pooling resources to prevent an epidemic - something the region's states have not done willingly in the past. Limited efforts are underway, he says, but it is still too little considering the risks involved.

Meanwhile, he says tensions surrounding other, more familiar flashpoints may be easing.

North Korea's decision to rejoin six-party talks is raising hopes that the crisis over its nuclear weapons program may be solved.

He also says Chinese relations with Taiwan have stabilized after a rough patch earlier this year. "My impression is the major governments are working quite closely together now with a degree of cooperation we haven't seen in a while," he added.

But Mr. Morrison says the rise of violence in Southern Thailand and the continued presence of militant Islamic groups in Indonesia are still cause for concern in the months ahead.

XS
SM
MD
LG