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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 2005 Strength in the Face of Adversity Michael Vatikiotis Southeast Asia greeted 2005 in a sombre mood, as the full scale of devastation in the wake of the tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake that sent giant waves crashing into the coastlines of north Sumatra, southern Thailand, northwestern Malaysia, and Myanmar became apparent. Almost a quarter million people were killed across the region, a loss of life almost too great to comprehend. In Aceh alone as many as 180,000 people died as a wall of dark water 10 metres high travelling at speeds of almost 400 miles an hour rushed onshore crushing everything in its path. From the air, it still looks like the aftermath of an atom blast. The tsunami was a particular blow for Indonesia, which had just crowned a protracted and messy democratic transition with successful multi-party elections and the first direct presidential election at the end of 2004. The new government led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was poised to inaugurate a new era of confidence and stability for Indonesia. Hopes ran high. Southeast Asia badly needed its largest component state to get back on track or face the prospect of unfavourable comparison with the booming economies of China and India. Since 2001, Southeast Asia has been badly buffeted by the global war on terror. A string of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as the uncovering of local terrorist cells and networks over the past four years has dragged the region into the terror spotlight. Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspect, Hambali, was arrested in central Thailand in 2003. Indonesia's resort island of Bali had been the scene of the most devastating and audacious terrorist attack since 2001, when bombs exploded outside nightclubs frequented by Western tourists in Kuta in October 2002 — and another in October 2005. The Philippines Michael VArnaons is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute ofSoutheastAsian Studies and former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. 4 Michael Vatikiotis is widely suspected to be a haven for Islamic militants who train in remote camps in the southern province of Mindanao. A terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic extremists was perceived as the principal threat to security in Southeast Asia throughout the year. Taken together, Indonesia's political fragility, the wider region's vulnerability, and then the ravages of natural disaster, did not exactly make for a cheery start to the year. Yet the legacy of the tsunami marked the region in significantly positive ways and influenced events throughout the year. Dire predictions of social chaos and political upheaval proved far-fetched. Instead, the tsunami, which left such a devastating trail of human and physical destruction, stimulated better government, enhanced regional cooperation, and offered a measure of peace across a region that badly needed all of these things. The Tsunami No one could have imagined that Indonesia's most conflict-prone province, a region closed to foreign scrutiny and governed under martial law would become the scene of Southeast Asia's biggest international relief effort, almost overnight. According to the World Bank, more than 20 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 430 local NGOs, dozens of bilateral and multilateral donors, and many central and local government agencies rushed to Aceh to help rebuild the shattered lives of more than 500,000 displaced by the waves. "Never before have non-government actors played such a central role in the long-term reconstruction," commented the World Bank's chief in Indonesia, Andrew Steer.1 An estimated US$9 billion has been pledged in aid for Aceh and Nias, of which less than US$1 billion has been spent. In a report issued in December the World Bank reported: "Most children are now back in school, health centers have largely reopened, some two-thirds of farmers are back working their land, and threequarters of the fishing boats lost have been replaced or are being built."2 Perhaps more remarkable than the generous outpouring of aid was the extent of regional and international participation on the ground. This was no time for Indonesia to proudly stand aloof, or worry about foreign scrutiny. President Yudhoyono was quick...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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