AUTHORITARIAN regimes are on the rise in the Asia-Pacific amid a decline in peace across the region and globally, according to a newly released index.
The 12th Global Peace Index (GPI), released by international think-tank the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), tracked net peace in countries across the world, naming Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Denmark the most peaceful nations on earth.
The study covered 99.7 percent of the world’s population, with countries ranked according to 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators in the broad categories of ‘ongoing conflict’, ‘safety and security’, and ‘militarisation’.
“The peace dividend is very, very real,” IEP founder Steve Killelea told Asian Correspondent during a phone interview. “Countries that are high in their peacefulness have their currencies appreciate, we find that their interest rates are lower, there are less major fluctuations, credit ratings improve or stay the same.”
According to the GPI, the global economic impact of violence in 2017 was an astonishing $14.8 trillion – some 12.4 percent of the world’s total economic activity. For the first time in history, refugees constituted 1 percent of the global population.
Nevertheless, militarisation declined globally in 2017, with 88 countries spending less on the military compared to 44 spending more. Over the past decade, 102 countries’ military expenditure has declined. “The world is becoming less militarised, contrary to what it would seem to most people,” said Killelea.
The Asia-Pacific saw 11 countries drop in the net peace rating from 2017, compared to 8 which improved. The region saw an overall increase of five percent in the “political terror” category, which tracks the development of more authoritarian regimes.
The Philippines’ rating declined significantly, “as President Duterte continued his assault on alleged drug dealers and from the five-month battle between government forces and Islamic militants who took over the city of Marawi.”
Regional neighbours Indonesia, Thailand and Timor-Leste, however, improved their scores.
Burma (Myanmar) saw the greatest overall deterioration in its score in the region, primarily due to military violence against the Rohingya Muslim community since August 2017 which has resulted in the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Bangladesh.
Amid what many experts have identified as possible genocide, the IEP’s index notes an increase in political instability and tensions with neighbours as a result of the Rohingya crisis.
In South Asia, Bangladesh had the largest deterioration in its score, whose ‘external conflicts fought’ and ‘neighbouring countries’ indicators were “adversely affected by the influx of 700,000 Rohingya refugees”.
“Tensions that are rising out of the South China Sea are putting strain on relationships in the region, particularly China’s relations with its neighbours,” said Killelea when asked about influence of China’s rise on peace in Asia.
“On the other hand, in terms of the denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula the role of China has been quite positive.” Economic investments from China into other parts of Asia could also have positive impacts for peace, he said.
Resilient, peaceful societies are typically characterised by what the IEP calls ‘positive peace’: well-functioning government, an open business environment, high levels of human capital, a free flow of information, and good relationship with neighbours.
Countries like Iceland, New Zealand or Portugal are typically “more moderate in their aims and more likely to achieve their aims,” said Killelea. Moreover, peace is an economic boon. For every 1 percent positive peace improvement there is a 2.8 percent improvement in economic growth, he said.
“Countries with the highest levels of peace averaged an additional 2 percentage points on their GDP growth rates over the last 60 years compared to the least peaceful countries,” added Killelea.
“The best way for governments to promote peace in Asia into the future is to develop institutions and structures that facilitate positive peace.”