ANGELES, PHILIPPINES – The recent killings of two Japanese by Islamic State militants are among the telling signs of an increased terror threat in the Asia-Pacific that puts the world’s most populous region and leading growth engine at “elevated risk,” the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said on Friday.
“We continue to see a rise in the spread of violent extremism worldwide,” Oscar Valenzuela, the new chairman of a working group that helps APEC’s 21 members coordinate on counterterrorism, told reporters after a three-day meeting at Subic Bay in Ologapo, the Philippines.
“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,” he said.
Participants in the meeting, he said, stressed the need to strengthen regional capacity to fight terrorism to “ensure the security of our people and our economies.”
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said counterterrorism officials discussed “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.”
On terrorist financing, Valenzuela said work in APEC has started to improve the regulation of new payment systems to ensure their transparent and legal use.
“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,” he warned.
“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.”
He said coordination is also underway in APEC to address travel-related aspects of terrorism.
“It builds on cooperation between APEC members to develop ‘trusted traveler’ characteristics and support implementation of advance passenger information systems,” he said.
Valenzuela said it also comes amid stepped up efforts to improve and broaden an APEC regional alert system to flag the use of stolen or fraudulent passports.
“The movement of terrorist recruits traveling to and from other regions around the world could have an impact on the Asia-Pacific,” he said, adding that APEC’s goal is to boost travel security while limiting disruptions to travelers that move between APEC member economies for legitimate purposes.
He said a “major events” security framework is being developed to provide a direct channel for information and experience-sharing among APEC economies to support all related stages of planning for events such as the Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Philippines, which drew an estimated crowd of 6 million to 7 million people.
The official noted that cooperation on the framework comes as Japan prepares to host 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,” he said.