OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – The 21 APEC member economies are stepping up their defenses against terrorism across the Asia-Pacific amid unsettling changes in the security landscape which are putting the world’s most populous region and leading growth engine at elevated risk.
New joint actions to curb terrorist financing, enhance secure travel and trade, and ensure security at the growing number of large-scale events held in the region were brought forward during a three-day assembly of counter-terrorism officials in Subic Bay. It was convened ahead of a key policy meeting of APEC Senior Officials to promote inclusive, secure growth which begins Friday. Terrorist incidents affecting member economies in recent days set the tone.
“We continue to see a rise in the spread of violent extremism worldwide,” said Oscar Valenzuela, new Chair of the APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group which manages coordination between member economies on the issue. “The death of two Japanese hostages at the hands of radicals and the pipeline of foreign funding and recruits to advance the terrorist agenda of such groups are signals of an increased threat across the Asia-Pacific.”
“APEC members are strengthening capacity in the Asia-Pacific region to fight terrorism and ensure the security of our people and our economies,” explained Valenzuela, who also serves as senior counter-terrorism director under the Anti-Terrorism Council of the Philippines, the archipelago being Chair of APEC in 2015. “It is critical to move swiftly to address advances in technology and communications that are bringing new counter-terrorism challenges to the surface and put lives and livelihoods at greater risk.”
Work in APEC has commenced to improve the regulation of new payment systems to ensure their transparent and legal use, and clamp down on the financing of terrorist activities. This includes aligning policies governing these systems – both among governments as well as with existing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regimes – and stepped up cooperation to boost relevant prosecutorial and law enforcement capacities in the region.
“The introduction of new payment technology is exposing alarming gaps in regulation that open up opportunities for terrorists and other criminals to exploit it for illicit or harmful purposes,” cautioned Valenzuela. “Such vulnerability poses a significant threat to the economies and collective security of the Asia-Pacific and is prompting us to work together to develop and reinforce regulatory safeguards.”
Coordination is also underway in APEC to address travel-related aspects of increasing terrorist flows. It builds on cooperation between APEC members to develop ‘trusted traveler’ characteristics and support implementation of advance passenger information systems. It also comes amid stepped up efforts to improve and broaden an APEC Regional Movement Alert System to flag the use of stolen or fraudulent passports at airport check-in, in real time; secure critical infrastructure; and boost supply chain emergency recovery.
“The movement of terrorist recruits travelling to and from other regions around the world could have an impact on the Asia-Pacific,” explained Valenzuela. “Our goal is to boost travel security while limiting disruptions to travelers that move between APEC member economies for legitimate purposes.”
A ‘Major Events’ Security Framework is additionally being developed that provides a direct channel for information and experience sharing among APEC economies to support all related stages of planning for events such as the Pope’s visit to the Philippines which drew an estimated crowd of 6-7 million people. Cooperation on the framework comes as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Japan the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“The Asia-Pacific is playing host to major events with increasing frequency and that means greater exposure to threats,” warned Valenzuela. “APEC members have been hosting annual meetings of the region’s Leaders for more than 20 years which provides a good base for security planning on an even larger scale,” noting that the Philippines hosted Leaders in Subic Bay in 1996 and will again in November in Manila. “More needs to be done when you’re talking about ensuring safety of events with hundreds of thousands and even millions of people.”
PHOTO 1: Left to right: Oscar Valenzuela, Chair, APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group, and Acting Director-General, Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the President of the Philippines; Diego Garcia Gonzalez, Program Director, APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group, APEC Secretariat. (Photo courtesy of APEC)
PHOTO 2: Philippine delegates to the APEC CTWG held at Subic Bay, Olongapo City, Philippines.