Global Peace Index 2017: State of peace in the Asia-Pacific

The Global Peace Index is an annual analysis on the state of peace in the world. This year's report, released in June 2017, finds that the levels of peace in a majority of Asia-Pacific nations have risen in the past year. The Asia Media Centre takes a quick look at the rankings.

Conducted by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) thinktank, the GPI measures the peace levels of 163 independent states and territories based on 23 indicators of violence or fear of violence. Here is a closer look on the state of peace in Asia.

Nations with a high state of peace

Japan led the peace chart in the Asia-Pacific, coming in 10th equal with the Republic of Ireland in its global rank.

Bhutan (13), Singapore (21), Malaysia (29), Taiwan (40), Laos (45), South Korea (47), Indonesia (52), and Timor-Leste (53) were among the 58 territories rated as having a high state of peace.

Indonesia experienced the most significant drop, falling 10 places from the previous year, largely due to rising tensions between hard-line Muslims and minority religious groups. Accusations of blasphemy against former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Purnama also put those tensions in international headlines. Yet overall, the country was considered to have a high state of peace, and was only one spot down from France.

Nations with a medium state of peace

Cambodia (89) made the most significant improvements, rising 15 places, in part thanks to government contributions to UN peacekeeping missions and the end of a border dispute with Thailand.

The IEP attributed the rise in peacefulness in the country to a stricter rule by the government.

“Much of these improvements are the result of a more heavy-handed approach by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in power for nearly 40 years, against the opposition.  

Nations with a low state of peace

India (137), the Philippines (138), and North Korea (150) were deemed Low or Very Low for their state of peace.

The Philippines ranked second-lowest in Asia, edging out only North Korea, mainly due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and crime. The ranking drew criticism from Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, who suggested “maybe there’s a political slant somewhere”. Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena defended the war on drugs: “I’ll tell you my opinion, if Duterte did not kill those pushers, the country [would be] much worse off today.”

Military expenditure

The study also recorded significant long-term increases in military expenditure in China (116) and South Korea (47). China’s long-term expenditure increased the most of all countries. From 2013 to 2016, expenditures increased 28 percent. The IEP credited the increase to China’s position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that China’s 2017 defence budget would grow 7 percent to US$152 billion (NZ$208 billion), or about 1.3 percent of GDP. That increase was the lowest announced increase since 2010.

Positive peace

Positive peace – the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies – was a key component of the IEP’s evaluation. According to SungYong Lee from University of Otago’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, the positive peace indicator was likely to be contentious. “GPI's criteria regarding positive peace can be more controversial since the concept of positive peace itself is subject to extensive debates,” he said.

Peaceful New Zealand

According to the 2017 GPI, New Zealand (2) is among the most peaceful nations in the world, gaining two spots to sit only under Iceland in the global list.

New Zealand is working to promote peace in the wider region. The recent joint statement between Indonesia and New Zealand on Defence Relations suggested “exchange of lessons learned and best practices concerning peacekeeping operations” as an area for cooperation.

At the recent Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore, Defence Minister Mark Mitchell emphasised New Zealand’s interest in working with Asia-Pacific nations to facilitate peaceful solutions and collective responses to issues such as regional security and South China Sea disputes.

– Asia Media Centre