Police officers stand guard near a blast site in downtown Urumqi, Xinjiang, earlier this year. Pic: AP.

Japan is the most peaceful country in Asia, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) 2014 Global Peace Index. Its fellow Asian powerhouse China, however, dropped in the rankings amid terrorist threats, international tensions  and rapid militarisation.

Ranked ninth most peaceful in the world, Japan also makes the exclusive list of just 11 countries (out of 162) that are deemed to be both free of both internal and external conflict. The only other Asian country to achieve this was Vietnam, though its overall rating (46th) was relatively poor due to other factors. Latin America dominated the list of 11 with five countries with no internal or external conflicts, but whether these are actually the most peaceful countries in the world may be open to some interpretation.

Natalie Southwick at Latin Correspondent writes:

While the low rankings for actual organized conflict are something for these five countries to celebrate, they are just part of the complete study.

The index ranks countries based on 22 different indicators that measure “the absence of violence or the fear of violence.” This means that in addition to a country’s actual involvement in domestic or international conflicts, the country is also ranked based on characteristics like weapons imports and exports, displaced persons, access to weapons, violent demonstrations, political instability and perceived criminality in society.

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan was ranked the second most peaceful nation in Asia (16th overall), followed by Singapore (25th), Taiwan (28th), Malaysia (33rd), Laos (38th), Mongolia (41st) and Vietnam (45th).

While most East and Southeast Asian countries were safely ranked in the top half of the table, there were some notable exceptions. Regional powerhouse China was ranked 108th overall, down seven places from last year, with factors like militarisation, criminality, internal conflict and terrorist activity combining to keep it out of the top 100. The spike in violence in the restive Xinjiang reason in western China is likely a significant factor in China’s slide in the rankings.

ASEAN nations Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines and Burma also fared poorly. Particularly worrying is Thailand’s ranking at 126th after months of political turmoil culminating in the military coup of May 22 this year. Unlike Cambodia (106th) and Burma (136th), Thailand is considered an economic leader in the region.

Bottom of the Asian pile is North Korea, ranked at 153rd.

As Latin Correspondent reports, the overall global trends don’t make for easy reading:

The IEP found that only 51 of the countries studied have improved their levels of peace since 2008, while the other 111 have all gotten worse. Overall, “the world has become less peaceful over the last year” because of increased terrorist activity, a greater number of conflicts and growing populations of refugees and displaced persons.