Since coming to power, Chinese President Xi Jinping has embarked on a campaign to enhance the country’s military prowess. This has been carried out by pursuing a two-pronged strategy. On one hand, China has been investing heavily in its military infrastructure by modernizing its technological capabilities with more state-of-the-art equipment. At the same time, they have been building their influence by expanding their place as a military power in Asia, particularly Central Asia, replacing Russia as the dominant hegemon in the region.
China has engaged in various military reforms, including allowing civilian companies to invest and modernize the military technology industry. Together with a grand, national strategy to create a hyper tech-based society, the Chinese military technology industry is becoming a serious participant, especially in the field of military-use telecommunication.
Since 1999, the Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) no longer supervises military technology companies, as part of an effort to eliminate military-related corruption. The Chinese State Council has therefore been able to directly exert a party-driven ideology in research, production, and sales of military equipment. Arms sales to Central Asia can be cast as a deliberate party decision, among other plans, to strategically position China to counter Russian influence at China’s doorstep.
In the 21st century, China has made a sharp departure from its traditional reliance on Russia for technology. At the breakup of the Soviet Union, Central Asia was actually one of the sources of China’s military technology. In 1998, China bought 40 Shkval torpedoes from Kazakhstan. Today, the Chinese military supplier industry is filling a market gap for cheap equipment that fits the region’s existing gear.
Since 1999, the Chinese PLA no longer supervises military technology companies as part of an effort to eliminate military-related corruption. The Chinese State Council has therefore been able to directly exert a party-driven ideology in research, production, and sales of military equipment. Arms sales to Central Asia, then, can be cast as a deliberate party decision to strategically position China, among other plans, to balance Russian influence at the Chinese doorstep (thediplomat.com/). In August of this year, China debuted its first military maritime medical aid simulation training system. The system, jointly developed by the Sixth Medical Center of the People's Liberation Army General Hospital and a number of other institutions, aims at improving medical personnel's capability of providing medical aid in naval battles (english.chinamil.com.cn/content_9599611.htm).
In preparation for potential plateau warfare, China recently used, for the first time, some of its most powerful weapons and equipment, including Type 99A main battle tanks and battlefield robots on a snow-covered plateau in combat exercises. Weapons and equipment, including Type 99A tanks and battlefield robots used for mine sweeping and reconnaissance, were deployed for the first time in a plateau (eng.chinamil.com.cn/content_9594625.htm).
China’s technology revolution has not just been for its own domestic benefit. In September 2018, Kazakhstan purchased a Y-8 a military plane, a copy of the Antonov An-12, from China’s CATIC. In January 2018, Turkmenistan purchased the QW-2 Vanguard 2, similar to the Russian 9K38 Igla, from China’s CASIC. In March 2016, a military exercise in Turkmenistan revealed a purchase of the HQ-9 air defense system, similar to the Russian S-300, from China’s CPMIEC. The HQ-9 is also reportedly present in Uzbekistan. The Soviet origins of modern Chinese military equipment make Beijing’s kit conveniently attractive for Central Asian states. And, many of its arms are designed to fit universal Soviet ammunition, such as NORINCO’s VT-4 and VN17.
In Central Asia, beyond outright donations, gas is often traded for military equipment. The HQ-9 transfer to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is part of the Chinese payment for natural gas via the Central Asia-China gas pipeline. Military equipment is further involved in the picture when in January 2015 a Chinese loan to be repaid with natural gas was provided to Turkmenistan for a purchase of arms.
In December 2017, Turkmen gas exports to China fell sharply. By February 2018, China’s domestic natural gas price jumped 40 percent. Sino-Turkmen relations seem to have worsened. In January 2019, China put Turkmenistan on a military blacklist, ceasing all future military exports to the country. Turkey was recently also blacklisted for turning down the HQ-9 deal (thediplomat.com/). China’s arms business is not relegated solely to Central Asia.
The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) has signed a contract to procure a Type 071E (Yuzhao)-class landing platform dock (LPD) from China. The deal was signed in Beijing on 9 September and is reportedly worth THB4 billion (USD130 million) (janes.com/update-thailand-signs-for-chinese-landing-platform-dock). China’s military support of these nation-states has not been solely relegated to providing weaponry and technological upgrades.
This summer, the “Cooperation-2019” China-Tajikistan joint counter-terrorism exercise was successfully completed at the Jilondi training range in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan. Participating troops of both sides conducted exercises on joint reconnaissance, comprehensive control, rescue, and fire strike. The Chinese air force, special operations force, aviation units and the Tajik artillery, special operations force and mountainous infantry, cooperated closely in accordance with the instructions from the Joint Command Department and conducted precise integrated air-ground control and strike against the “terrorists”.
The Joint Command Department ordered the Chinese aviation helicopters to carry out aircraft landing with soldiers of Tajik special operations force once the targets were locked. The exercise culminated in special operations forces of both sides conducting a joint assault on the rescue area quickly by assault vehicles, and Chinese Air Force fighters, fighter-bombers, and UAVs carrying out deterrence and precision strikes against concentrated terrorist hideouts. This was but one of a series of joint operations exercises the two countries have carried out (eng.chinamil.com.cn/content_9592237.htm).
On Aug. 17 Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, met with Kim Su Kil, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army Saturday in Beijing. Highlighting the traditional friendship between China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Zhang said the Chinese military is willing to work with the DPRK side to strengthen communication and promote cooperation and mutual support, so as to contribute to the consolidation and development of bilateral relations and regional peace and stability. Kim said the DPRK side is ready to strengthen friendly exchanges between the two armed forces in various fields, mutual learning, and promoting the relations between the two countries and the two armed forces to a higher level (eng.chinamil.com.cn/content_9593174.htm).
China’s role in Central Asia is becoming more significant. The clear escalation of Chinese assertiveness in Central Asia indicates a breakdown of the assumed traditional Sino-Russian economic-military division of labor in the region. Russia has often been understood as the region’s security guarantor, while China has increasingly played a critical economic role that has now extended into a military one. Chinese military assertiveness in Asia has often been viewed as an effort to strike a balance, either with the United States, India, or other powers across the region.
While China’s military technology industry has arguably grown, Russia has put little effort into innovating its military technology industry. The close to nonexistent manufacturing sector for military parts in Russia continues to give China an upper hand in producing traditional components as well as new military-use telecommunication components.
In 2015, 186 types of Russian military equipment needed components from manufacturers in Ukraine. On top of all this, huge debt in the Russian military industry will only make cheaper Chinese alternatives more and more attractive. Although in Russia’s backyard, but increasingly a Chinese security interest, Central Asia provides a critical glance at the expansion of Beijing’s military assertiveness. (thediplomat.com/). It is inevitable that China will surpass Russia as the dominant power in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Two outcomes coming from this situation that will affect the U.S. in both positive and negative ways. On one hand, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia have long been seen as volatile hotbeds of Islamic radicalism. China’s growing involvement in the region will inevitably result in it becoming more invested in the security of the region including counterterrorism and stability. Since China borders so many of these countries, it will be in a geographically advantageous position to relieve the U.S. of much of the responsibility it currently assumes around the world. At a strategic security level, China can become an important ally in the fight against Islamic radicalism.
A negative perspective is that China’s encroachment into Central Asia has allowed it to replace Russia as the dominant force in the region. This gives China access to vast natural resources that it will exploit for its own purposes as well as opening up numerous additional markets for its products.
This is also dangerous because China is positioning itself as an economic alternative to the U.S. who has used sanctions as a way of dealing with hostile countries. As China expands its economic influence and develops relations with countries the U.S. is embargoing, it will erode the power of those sanctions.
For the last several years, Russia has been positioning itself as a primary arms broker to the world markets. Though Russia itself has a military that continues to subsist heavily on cold war surplus; the country’s arms industry has been steadily developing modern equipment that it sells overseas. Russia’s clients encompass numerous countries including Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
In May of 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited an air force testing site featuring their latest pieces of modern equipment. A variety of air defense systems were on display, including the new S-350 Vityaz medium-range surface-to-air missile system, which began serious production in March 2019, with multiple iterations of the Panstir point defense air defense system. Russia has heavily promoted Panstir in recent years, highlighting its operational activities in Syria (thedrive.com/half-of-russias-su-57-fleet-escorted-putin-to-military-test-facility-ahead-of-pompeo-meeting).
The S-350 was designed to replace the S-400 series. The S-400, nicknamed Triumf or Triumph, NATO code-named SA-21 Growler, is a long-range surface-to-air missile system produced by Almaz-Antey. The S-400 Triumph is designed to engage ECM, radar-picket, director area, reconnaissance, strategic and tactical aircraft; tactical and theatre ballistic missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles and other current and future air attack assets at a maximum range of 400 km, and an altitude of up to 30 km. The S-400 Triumph can also destroy Tomahawk cruise missiles and other types of missiles, including precision-guided ones, as well as AWACS aircraft, at ranges of up to 400 km. It can also detect stealth aircraft and other targets at all altitudes of their combat deployment and at maximum ranges. This air defense missile system can simultaneously engage 36 targets (armyrecognition.com/s-400_triumf_sa-21_growler_missile_russia_air_defense_system.html).
Design of the S-350 air defense system is broadly similar to the South Korean KM-SAM Chun Koong. It is worth noting that Almaz-Antey participated in the development of that South Korean SAM system. It is claimed that the S-350 Vityaz is more capable than the South Korean system because the S-350 system has advanced phased-array radar and a new mobile command post.
If required, a number of vehicles can be linked together to form a battery. A typical battery consisting of a command post can control two radars and 8 TEL vehicles. Vityaz SAM system can operate autonomously or alongside other air defense systems. It can stop and launch its missiles within 5 minutes while traveling. This air defense system can engage 12 to 16 targets simultaneously, including aircraft and ballistic missiles. Its command post can target up to 32 missiles on various targets at once. (military-today.com/s350e_vityaz.htm).
A single S-350 transporter erector launcher (TEL) is armed with three times as many missiles as a single S-300 or S-400 SAM TEL and the S-350 is capable of repelling simultaneous attacks from any direction. The S-350's capabilities make it a priority to equip SAM units stationed on borders and coasts with Vityaz and with a regiment retrained for the system in 2020.
The Pantsir-S short-range air defence (SHORAD) system had been used to deal effectively with Grad rockets fired by the BM-21 multiple rocket launcher system, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and quadcopters over the last year and a half and has countered air-to-surface missiles and aircraft. Pantsir-SM will counter future threats such as hypersonic missiles and UAV swarms, stressing that in addition to a new radar, greater processing power, and missiles with greater speed, range, and payload, the Pantsir-SM will use artificial intelligence.
With the proliferation of precision-guided munitions (PGMs), the focus is shifting from area to point air defence with Pantsir systems, while S-400 SAM systems will deal with aircraft before they launch PGMs (janes.com/article/russian-sam-troops-deputy-commander-dubs-s-350-cruise-missile-killer).
The S-350 can also launch a short-range missile which is likely a variant of the 9M100. This air defense system can engage targets within ranges from 30 to 120 km. The Vityaz TEL vehicle carries 12 9M96E vertically-launched missiles. The same medium-range missiles are used by the recent Russian S-400. The 9M96E is a variant of the 9M96 active radar-homing interceptor missile. This missile is designed for direct impact. It is similar to the US Patriot PAC-3 design and is intended to provide point defense against precision attacks and defense suppression weapons. Its claimed kill probability is 90% against aircraft and 70% against Harpoon missiles (military-today.com/s350e_vityaz.htm).In addition, the Pantsir-SM will have artificial intelligence elements that will not only allow it to survive in the most difficult conditions to fight against the enemy air of the future but also come out of it as a winner.
Colonel Yuri Muravkin, deputy chief of the Russian Missile Forces, told the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper the Pantsir-SM is being created for future anti-aircraft battles. The colonel explained that the anti-aircraft battle of the future, especially in the last line of defense, will no longer be a duel between anti-aircraft missiles and tactical fighter pilots. Muravkin added that Pantsir-SM will receive new radar missile guidance and reconnaissance systems, high-speed computing and a new guided anti-aircraft missile with a longer range of fire and more powerful warhead (fort-russ.com/).
For years, the S-400 system has been sold to numerous countries. In April 2009, during an IDEF exhibition in Istanbul, Rosoboronexport released that the Turkish government had expressed strong interest in buying S-400 air defense systems. Reports on Russia signing a contract for sales of S-400 systems to China came in November 2014. In November 2015, the Russian president’s adviser on military-technical cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin, confirmed these reports. Turkish talks on the delivery of the S-400 systems first came in November 2016. In September 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara had signed a contract with Moscow on purchasing the S-400 complexes and made an advance payment. Head of Russia’s Rostec State Corporation, Sergei Chemezov, said that the delivery would begin in March 2020.
China became the first foreign buyer of these systems and will receive two batches. In July 2018, the Russia press agency TASS announced that China has received the first batch of Russian-made S-400 Triumf missile systems. On 15 October 2016, during the BRICS Summit, India and Russia signed an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) for the supply of five S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. On 5 October 2018, India and Russia signed a US$5.43 billion deal for five S-400 missile systems. The deliveries are expected to commence in 24 months, by the end of 2020. In January 2018, Russian state media TASS reported that Qatar was in an advanced state of talks to procure S-400 missile systems.
The S-400 air defense missile system is combat-proven. In November 2015, the deployment of S-400 was reported in Syria, along with the contingent of Russian troops and other military hardware in the course of the air campaign conducted by the Russian forces on the side of the Syrian government. In July 2019, Russia had started the delivery of S-400 missile systems to Turkey (armyrecognition.com). And it has been reported that Iran has received possession of the system as well (bing.com). It is only logical to assume that Russia intends to push the S-350 in the same way.
In building itself into a major arms merchant, Russia is creating a series of client states that it can exert influence over, especially if several of these clients are suffering against sanctions from the US and allies. What makes the anti-aircraft system such a concern is that it presents a serious change in the dynamics of military power. Many states, including the US and Israel, have relied heavily on air combat capabilities to engage hostile states and neutralize threats. Modernized anti-aircraft weaponry, such as the S-350 in the hands of hostile states, represents a change in the balance of power and limits several military options that traditionally could have been effective.
It is unclear if such technological enhancements will present a short or long-term change in these dynamics of military strength. What is clear is that US technological superiority is no longer guaranteed and military considerations may not be as feasible as they once were.
The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the presidency of Mexico has signaled a change in policy toward combatting drug cartels. The policy of the last decade has been to approach the problem through the use of military force. President Obrador has called to remove the military from such duties through a gradual reduction of forces from the mission (mexiconewsdaily.com/).
For the last decade, the Mexican government has approached the drug cartels operating in the country as largely a military threat and have attempted to destroy their influence through military force. Statistics show the federal government deployed 52,807 soldiers to fight Mexico’s notorious drug cartels last year ─ the highest number in the 12-year war on drugs. The record deployment was spread across several states in various regions of the country. Former president Felipe Calderón launched the military-based crime-fighting strategy shortly after he took office in December 2006 by sending 6,500 troops into his home state of Michoacán. During 2007, his first full year in office, 45,000 soldiers were deployed across the country. The size of the deployment was increased to 48,650 in 2009 as the number of soldiers, Marines, and Federal Police losing their lives in confrontations with organized crime continued to grow.
With more than 29,000 homicides, 2017 was also the most violent year in at least two decades while more than 200,000 people have been murdered in the 12 years since the crackdown on cartels began, leading many observers to conclude that the war on drugs strategy has failed. The violence of the cartels has turned several states within the country into virtual war zones.
One of the main targets of these expeditions has been the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) (mexiconewsdaily.com/).It is known for its aggressive use of violence, and its public relations campaigns. This criminal group moved drug shipments and managed finances for the Sinaloa Cartel operating primarily in the states of Jalisco and Colima and later extending into Michoacán and Mexico City. The group has been associated with the use of extreme violence. In the period following the emergence of the CJNG, homicides spiked in Jalisco. The cartel also made it one of its early missions to battle the Zetas drug trafficking organization in Veracruz state, under the name “Matazetas,” or “Zetas Killers,” which, depending on the source, is described as either another name for the CJNG or a special cell of the group responsible for assassinations. The group claimed responsibility for a 2011 massacre of 35 people in Veracruz and a month later security forces recovered the corpses of another 30-plus apparent victims of the group.
In April 2015, the CJNG killed 15 Mexican police officers during an ambush in Jalisco state, one of the single deadliest attacks on security forces in recent Mexican history. The group was also blamed for an attack in March 2015 that killed five federal police. Additionally, Mexican officials have previously indicated that the group possesses highly sophisticated armaments. Machine guns and grenade launchers were used to conduct the March 2015 attack. In May 2015, the group continued its deadly streak, shooting down a military helicopter on May 1, and launching a wave of violence across Jalisco.
The CJNG has also been known to appeal to the Mexican citizenry with idealistic propaganda, invoking solidarity and promising to rid its areas of operation of other crime syndicates, such as the Zetas and the Knights Templar another sworn enemy. The CJNG operates in at least in 22 states: Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Baja California, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Morelos, Nayarit, Guerrero, and Veracruz, plus Mexico City and the State of Mexico. The cartel also allegedly has contacts in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Central America, and the United States and uses these connections to traffic marijuana, cocaine, and synthetic drugs. Recent arrests suggest that the Cuinis, the alleged money laundering arm of the CJNG, may have established operations in Brazil and Uruguay. The CJNG’s assets are thought to be worth over $20 billion (insightcrime.org/).
In May of this year, the cartel was suspected for an attack on the former attorney general of Jalisco that was followed by gunfire and narco-blockades on the streets of Guadalajara. An estimated 12 armed civilians opened fire on Labor Secretary Luis Carlos Nájera, who was attorney general between 2013 and 2015. No one was killed in the exchange of gunfire but several people were wounded. Among them were two young girls selling candy outside the restaurant, Nájera, who was struck by a bullet in the hand, and three agents from the state prosecutor’s office, one of whom was reported in serious condition (mexiconewsdaily.com/news/).
In March, three film students in Jalisco were tortured and murdered by a drug cartel before their bodies were dissolved in acid. Javier Salomón Aceves Gastélum, Marcos Francisco García Ávalos, and Jesús Daniel Díaz García were kidnapped by armed men in Tonalá, near Guadalajara, on March 19. The three students — all of whom attended the Audiovisual Media University (CAAV) in Guadalajara — were working on a project in the home of one of the student’s aunts on the day they were kidnapped. CJNG members were watching the house because a rival criminal known as El Cholo, the leader of the Nueva Plaza criminal group, was expected to arrive there. Posing as security authorities, the armed men took the students to a ranch where one died from the beating he received while being interrogated. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity (mexiconewsdaily.com/). But, the cartels are not the only violent factions threatening the stability of several Mexican states.
In response to the violence, several self-defense vigilante groups have emerged in the last few years to combat the cartel groups that have dominated the regions. These vigilantes are organized and financed largely by the local businessmen. They are comprised of a wide assortment of people from business leaders, to migrant workers, to family members of victims from cartel violence and mercenaries. Equipped with full tactical attire and armed with state of the art weaponry, these vigilantes have engaged the cartels in open pitched battle on the streets of towns and cities where the government security forces have either been overwhelmed or have actively colluded with the local cartels.
These groups have been successful in uprooting entrenched criminal organizations in many regions of the country where the government security forces have failed. However, in doing so they have created another destabilizing presence. The corruption of the security forces has led the vigilantes to be suspicious of the government and ill-inclined to relinquish control of liberated territory to official authorities. Nor have they complied with a police order to disband or disarm.
In an attempt to bring some control over the vigilantes, the Mexican military has sought to legitimize them as augmentation forces and have given them official capacity. This avenue has met with minimal success as the vigilantes remain skeptical of the police and military, choosing to maintain their independence. In regions they control, vigilante groups have been known to stop even police convoys and prisoner transports to search them for cartel leaders using police cover to escape.
The vigilante movement has elicited other negative results. In the aftermath of removing cartels from their power over their stronghold regions, the vigilantes have taken to rigorous pursuit of escaping cartel members that have often resulted in virtual witch hunts that involve severe beatings administered to suspected cartel members and rounding up people based on little more than hearsay evidence. All of which has led to negative backlashes from the general public (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmnMgDEp_R0).
Nor, does the vigilante movement operate free from its own criminal indulgences. Since 2013, government officials have claimed on various occasions that the CJNG provided arms to the self-defense forces that purportedly emerged to combat the Knights Templar in the southwest, pacific state of Michoacán — a strategic operating point for criminal groups home to a wealth of minerals and a major seaport (insightcrime.org/). The militaries own involvement in the conflict has left it with a tarnished reputation.
There are strong indications that federal security forces were responsible for the disappearance of 23 people, including at least five minors, in Tamaulipas over the past four months. The United Nations (UN) said that people were reportedly detained by uniformed personnel as they walked or drove along public roads adding that several burnt out and bullet-ridden vehicles [have been] found by the roadside. Many of these people are reported to have been arbitrarily detained and disappeared while going about their daily lives. It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims are minors, with three of them as young as 14. These crimes, perpetrated over four months in a single municipality, are outrageous. Allegations have also been raised regarding the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions carried out by public officials (mexiconewsdaily.com/). The last decade of violence has led to calls for a new means of combatting the criminal lawlessness.
The new strategy proposed by the Obrador administration known as #SeguridadSinGuerra (Security without War) promises to create a National Guard and to keep the Internal Security Law (LSI) which formally authorizes the use of the military in domestic law enforcement. A key part of the strategy would be to put an end to the vicious circle of corruption that brings about more corruption as well as impunity and insecurity. The strategy further builds on the concepts of training police and improving their socio-economic conditions which will initiate a comprehensive pacification project that will include analyzing the possibility of an amnesty for some criminals (mexiconewsdaily.com/).
It is too early in the new administration. There has not been enough time to implement any parts of the new strategy. So, its effectiveness has yet to be tested. The concern is that with all the lawlessness going on, the measures may be too late to have any serious effect. With entire regions outside of the government's control and held by well-financed cartels or vigilante groups, the government’s main problem will be reasserting control and establishing its legitimacy. The cartels don’t want to relinquish power and through their enterprises have billions of dollars to use and have found ways to circumvent the security forces and the vigilante groups. The vigilante groups don’t trust the government security forces or the legal system and retain armies. These two groups, holding their own well equipped and trained armies, present a severe challenge of power for the government. The polices in and of themselves are vaguely defined and focus on pacification strategies in dealing with the criminal organizations of the cartels.
It is too early to know if the new policies will have any real impact. While they might have marginal success at some level, it is unlikely they will have much effect on a larger scale. The cartels are not rebel organizations, they’re businesses that can only be subverted by cutting off their financial resources and revenue base. That means stronger cooperation from neighboring countries, such as the United States and Canada, who are the prime sources of this revenue. If the cartels cannot be subdued, then the vigilante groups will continue to gain in power as citizens start to see them as the only viable response to the criminality. The history of the government trying to clean up corruption in the police and military has proven to be short-lived at best. Inevitably, the criminality in Mexico is going to continue because too much money is involved, and their power too well entrenched. The fear is that the violence will become wider spread in the country diminishing control of the government and giving more to the cartels and vigilantes.
Buddhist fundamentalism and the accompanying nationalistic violence has been fermenting for several years in the Asian South Pacific. Over the past year in parts of Asia, friction between Buddhism and Islam has killed hundreds, mostly Muslims. The violence is being fanned by extremist Buddhist monks who preach a dangerous form of religious chauvinism to their followers (world.time.com). This violence has largely been confined to eruptions of violent riots and political demagoguery. However, many factors point to the notion that this may gradually expand.
Buddhist militancy appears to be the next wave of terrorism in Asia — and it could go global. It’s been recurrently in Sri Lanka since the end of the ethnic civil war in 2009, with Buddhist monks attacking minority Muslims as well as Christians. Similarly, in Myanmar since 2012, Buddhist monks have been openly attacking minority Muslim groups, including the ethnically ostracized Rohingya people. Now, extremist monks in both countries have formally linked up to form a global anti-Islamist pact (fairobserver.com). This presumes the rise of an international network of Buddhist fundamentalist groups developing into a mold similar to present day Islamic terror networks.
In the years leading into the twenty-first century, fear in the Asian world over the real or perceived rising influence of Islam has led to the rise of religious extremism from the Asiatic Buddhist communities. Over the past few years in Buddhist-majority Burma, scores, if not hundreds, have been killed in communal clashes with Muslims suffering the most casualties. Burmese monks were seen goading Buddhist mobs, while some suspect the authorities of having stoked the violence — a charge the country’s new quasi-civilian government denies.
In Sri Lanka, where a conservative, pro-Buddhist government reigns, Buddhist nationalist groups are operating with apparent impunity ─ looting Muslim and Christian establishments and calling for restrictions to be placed on the 9% of the country that is Muslim. Meanwhile in Thailand’s deep south, where a Muslim insurgency has claimed some 5,000 lives since 2004, desperate Buddhist clerics are retreating into their temples with Thai soldiers at their side. Their fear is understandable. But the close relationship between temple and state is further dividing this already anxious region (world.time.com). Various movements, organizations and leaders have emerged from this.
One of the most prominent figures is Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was credited with inciting angry Buddhists in Myanmar to riot against the Muslim minority, burning mosques and Muslim-owned shops and houses and attacking Muslims who dared to challenge them. He has been featured in newspaper accounts as the Face of Buddhist Terrorism. In 2013 and 2014, scores were killed and thousands were displaced from their homes. In the town of Meiktila, a Buddhist mob surrounded a Muslim man and set him on fire.
The United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights have identified Wirathu as one of the main figures in Myanmar’s pattern of human rights abuse against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, who live in the northern portion of Rakhine province adjacent to Bangladesh. Wirathu justifies his actions under the cover that he is protecting the cultural purity of Buddhism.
His accusations include the suspicion that all Muslims living in Myanmar are sympathetic to extremist groups such as Al Qaeda. That Muslim men who marry Buddhist women force their wives to convert to Islam. He also argues of Islamic conspiracies at a global level. According to Wirathu, rich Muslim countries have bought off the UN, and its human rights accusations were part of a Muslim plot. He expands this conspiracy belief to include the mainstream news media, which he claims is also under control of Islamic extremists (religiondispatches.org).
Such religious movements are not relegated to Myanmar. Recently, in Sri Lanka, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Theron, General Secretary of Body Bali Sena (BBS) and Buddhist monk, (thesundayleader.lk) has been inciting hysteria with his firebrand sermons. His organization, the BBS, is a Buddhist organization many have called Right or Ultra-Right that emerged as a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka in 2013. Since then, this new group has slowly grown in stature and popular support in the country’s Buddhist-dominated areas. The BBS essentially talks about protecting the Buddhist culture of the country from foreign religions. So far, the issues raked up by the BBS are worthy of active and sympathetic consideration. BBS is able to capture the attention of the Buddhist population of Sri Lanka (samvada.org).
In 2016, Gnanasara reignited anti-Muslim sentiments with numerous speeches and public attacks against the country’s Muslims. He stated that Muslims cannot teach monks about reconciliation or co-existence, and if they confront Buddhists, then Buddhists are ready to respond accordingly. The monk later made an even more blasphemous comment on social media where he told the Muslim Council to send the letter they sent to the IGP to Prophet Muhammad.
His rhetoric has gone beyond abusive speech. As pointed out by the Muslim Council. On 15 June 2014, Ven. Gnanasara Theron incited the people of Kalu Tara district to cause violence, death and destruction to the Muslims of Aluthgama and Beruwela. The rioting caused the death of two persons, destroyed houses and property and inflicted damages to businesses worth billions of rupees. The repeated calls by the Muslim community for a commission of inquiry and punishment of the perpetrators have fallen on deaf ears. Two years on, Ven. Gnanasara there is proudly claiming that he will repeat Aluthgama in Marianna (thesundayleader.lk).
On 16 June 2014, addressing the cheering crowd in the tension-stricken town, the monk threatened that if any Muslim set hands on any Sinhalese, let alone Buddhist monks, it would be the end of all the Muslims. The monk has publicly claimed that he was a racist and a religious extremist (colombopage.com). These movements have gained significant momentum among the local Buddhist population and have had severe influence on the local government and its policies.
Wirathu’s movement has worked to the greater detriment of the Muslim minority. The transition to democracy in Myanmar has allowed popular prejudices to influence how the new government rules, and has amplified a dangerous narrative that casts Muslims as an alien presence in a Buddhist-majority. Muslims of all ethnicities have been refused national identification cards, while access to Islamic places of worship has been blocked in some places.
At least 21 villages around Myanmar have declared themselves “no-go zones” for Muslims, backed by the authorities. Some of the places had erected signs saying that Muslims could not stay overnight, buy or rent property, and local people were prohibited from marrying a Muslim. In Rakhine state, the report highlighted growing segregation between Buddhists and Muslim communities and severe travel restrictions for the Muslim Rohingya which limited their access to health care and education (atimes.com).
At the time of this writing, more than 370,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh amid a mass-scale scorched-earth campaign across the border in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. Myanmar security forces and vigilante mobs are burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting people at random as they try to flee. According to a report from Amnesty International, Myanmar’s security forces have planted internationally banned antipersonnel landmines along its border with Bangladesh. These have seriously injured at least four civilians, including two children, and reportedly killed one man (amnesty.org).
On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the UN Security Council expressed deep concern over the situation in the Rakhine State of Myanmar and called for an end to violence against the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group (news.xinhuanet.com). In Sri Lanka the situation is similar.
The Bodu Bala Sena came into prominence due to its public opposition to the Halal mark on all products marketed in Sri Lanka. This was the demand made and achieved by the less than 10% population of the Muslims of the island. The Halal mark has been made mandatory on all products in Sri Lanka due to the pressure of the Muslim leadership, although a large population of the country – Buddhists, Hindus and Christians – who constitute around 90% of the population, don’t need it at all. All producers of food products have been forced to manufacture Halal products and approach a Muslim council for Halal certification.
BBS’s opposition to this issue had led to the Ulema council withdrawing the mandatory demand for Halal certification. Since then, the BBS has turned its attention to, what they perceive as the growing Islamization and Christianization of the Island nation. The BBS essentially talks about protecting the Buddhist culture of the country from foreign religions. By this it also means the Christian missionaries who are trying to convert people. They see their mission is to curtail any such efforts. The BBS has maintained that Hindus and Buddhists of the country should work together on these issues (samvada.org).
The rise of Buddhist fundamentalism has gained series momentum in just a few years, with leadership intent on creating a global movement.
In September 2014, Buddhist monks in Myanmar, including Ashin Wirathu, flew to Sri Lanka to officially launch the global Buddhist alliance against Islamist militants. At the time, they said the goal was to get more Buddhist groups to join their cause against Islamist militants.
While the current wave of religious extremism seems largely relegated to Myanmar and Sri Lanka, historically there are accounts of Buddhist violence in Thailand, Japan and Tibet. Other countries, such as Cambodia, Bhutan, Laos and Vietnam have a significant Buddhist population. Some have speculated that the populations of these countries could be exploited to extend radical networks and look for potential recruitment pools for the extremist Buddhist alliance.
Outside of Asia, there are particular Buddhist centers in Europe or the United States that might be targeted by these militant monks (fairobserver.com). The Buddhist fundamentalist movement is indeed growing; however, the question is to what end?
While radical Buddhism is definitely growing and gaining momentum in the countries of Myanmar and Sri Lanka, where it has reached high popularity amongst the domestic Buddhist population, similar movements in other Buddhist dominated countries have so far failed to materialize. A search for information on Buddhist radical groups or movements outside of the aforementioned countries yielded no results. From this, one could conclude that certain forecasts about a global movement emerging are exaggerated.
The meeting held in 2015 between movement leaders from Myanmar and Sri Lanka has so far not seemed to coalesce into something of great significance. Still, where the movement is popular, it has resulted in extreme violence and persecution of those practicing other religions. Since, radical Buddhism has not received the attention of radical Islam or Hinduism, it is also difficult to be completely sure of this movement’s reach.
Furthermore, the leadership of the radical Buddhist movement has characterized their intentions as existing to fight Islamic extremists threatening their religion. With the possibility of Islamic retaliations for the violence in South East Asia, the concern could be that Buddhists globally could start to define the movement in that context. This could play into the strategy of the extremists as a way to build their movement’s international reach. It also helps to legitimize their actions in the eyes of the western world, who would be more apt to excuse a movement purporting to work against radical Islam.
Even if the movement doesn’t reach beyond its current state, the outcry from the Muslim community has been profound over the persecution of Muslims in this region. It has become a rallying cry for many radical Islamic groups looking to justify their cause and build support among Muslim communities.
In the early stages of this movement, it’s too early to draw any hard conclusions. However, the western governments should not wait until this situation becomes an organized global threat. Intelligence resources should be allocated to collect intelligence on this movement and focus efforts to curtail their growth globally as well as influence within the regional borders where they currently reside.
Actions to combat Buddhist extremist must be public and well publicized to show the Islamic world that the governments of the world are combating religious extremism in general, not simply targeting Islam while ignoring everyone else. Ultimately, the war against terrorism must be more broadly focused. Countries cannot become so preoccupied with one form of religious extremism that they become blind to other growing movements. If they fall into that trap, then by the time the world becomes threatened by this new force, if it does, it will be against a well-organized network hosting global support with vast resources. Intelligence communities of the world will once again be playing catch up.