Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

East Asia and the Pacific 1540 Reporting

1540 Introduction Page: UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

Region Overview


NBC Capabilities and Technological Status

The East Asia and Pacific region is comprised of numerous countries possessing a wide range of capabilities and facing a variety of nonproliferation and terrorism challenges. For the purposes of this overview, the region has been divided into three sub-regions: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. [1]

Countries in the Northeast Asia sub-region currently face relatively few threats from non-state actors, including both terrorist and separatist organizations. China does, however, face some militant separatist activity in its western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. [2]

Terrorist and insurgent activity is more common in Southeast Asia. Some countries in the region have indigenous Islamist terror groups, of which the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah is the most active. [3] Militant separatist movements comprised of mostly ethnic or religious minorities engaged in armed operations control parts of the territories of some states in the region. These activities tend to exacerbate the problem of already porous borders. In the Philippines and especially on the southern island of Mindanao, the government is currently working to quell several violent insurgent groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); Abu Sayyaf; the Rajah Sulaiman Movement; and elements of Jemaah Islamiyah. [4] Due to the heavy concentration of these radical and separatist groups in Mindanao, government control over this area has weakened, leaving it more vulnerable to smuggling and illicit activity. There are also insurgent groups in southern Thailand, and to a lesser extent in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Countries in the South Pacific sub-region face almost no threat from terrorist or insurgent operations except for suspected terrorist cell activity in Australia. Relations among neighboring countries in the region are friendly. The major security challenge for the small island states of the South Pacific is their lack of capacity to patrol and protect their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

For detailed information on this region's NBC and delivery system capabilities, see the relevant country profiles.

Back to Top

WMD-Related Illicit Trafficking

Transshipped cargo presents the most significant challenge for preventing proliferation of dual-use technologies and NBC-related materials in the region. Compared to gate traffic, the shorter dwell times, lack of shipping data, and space constraints associated with transshipped cargo allow smugglers to circumvent the traditional export and border controls at chokepoints into and out of a port.

The major economies in East Asia and the Pacific are export-oriented and hungry for both energy resources and other raw materials, making the region's sea-lanes the busiest in the world. Over 90% of global commerce is transported through the maritime shipping network via cargo containers. [5] Measured in the industry standard of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), the volume of global shipping was 580 million TEUs in 2011; of that total volume, 275 million TEUs (47%) departed from, was stored at, or terminated in an Asian port. [6] Twenty seven of the top 50 container ports, as measured by volume, are located in 12 different countries in the Asia Pacific region (Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam). [7]

Many ports in Asia have historically been used as both transshipment hubs and manufacturing conduits for sensitive materials. Most notoriously, the AQ Khan nuclear smuggling network employed a Malaysian-based firm to manufacture centrifuge parts for Libya's nuclear weapons program, and utilized ports in the region to transship sensitive commodities. Apart from the Khan network, other illicit procurement efforts have used Asian entities, including in China, Japan, and South Korea, to obtain controlled dual-use commodities.

Back to Top

1540 Implementation

The East Asia and Pacific region has relatively high levels of reporting to the 1540 Committee; of the region's 30 countries, 28 submitted reports. [8] The DPRK and Timor-Leste have not submitted reports, but Timor-Leste was accepted as a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 2005, and has since participated in regional fora related to UNSCR 1540 implementation. [9] Because Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, it is unable to participate actively in the nonproliferation regime in an official capacity or to engage directly with the 1540 Committee. Taiwan has therefore not submitted a report to the 1540 Committee.

Back to Top

Export Controls and Related Measures
Although China promulgated a comprehensive set of export controls in 2002, Beijing has continued to struggle with bridging the gap between legislation and enforcement. China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Zangger Committee, and Beijing has made efforts to regularly update its export regulations and control lists to meet international standards. Despite these efforts, Chinese entities have often been caught up in the transfer of sensitive commodities to suspected proliferators; the United States and other international actors continue to accuse Chinese companies of transferring NBC and missile-related related dual-use materials to countries of concern, and particularly Iran and North Korea.

Although Japan is a party to all of the relevant export control regimes, a number of Japanese companies have exported controlled dual-use technologies without a license. For example, international inspectors found Japanese components at nuclear-related facilities in North Korea and Libya. [10] After a number of cases came to light, Japan strengthened its export controls. South Korea has also seen a few cases where sensitive commodities were transferred to Iran, in contravention of its domestic trade controls. These cases demonstrate that even a technologically advanced state with strong export control legislation and enforcement mechanisms can face 1540-related implementation challenges.

Southeast Asian countries have slowly recognized an increased need for strengthening their controls, including transshipment and brokering controls, on sensitive materials. Of the countries in the region, Singapore has spent the most time strengthening its system, as it relies on its role as a major transshipment port for much of its economic strength. In 2010, Malaysia increased its legal controls on dual-use materials, and authorities in Kuala Lumpur appear to realize, as Singapore did, that controlling dual-use commodities is critical to remaining a participant in international trade. The other top economies in the region have been making some progress in managing sensitive trade, but the progress has been slow.

Back to Top

Regional Cooperation and Outreach
Four countries in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) have requested assistance from the 1540 Committee, specifically related to drafting legislation and developing effective measures to physically protect facilities and monitor border traffic. [11] Six ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) have engaged in some level of participation with the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) since its inception in 2003. Vietnam is the most recent country to have participated in the PSI (2014). Only Singapore is an active participant. [12]

The 1540 Committee has undertaken numerous outreach efforts in East Asia and the Pacific, as have other international organizations and member states, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United States, and the European Union. [13] Organizations such as the IAEA, the OPCW, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) have also organized similar events in the region. Assisting countries have focused outreach on Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, where limited implementation of 1540 stems to a large degree from insufficient financial and technical resources. New Zealand has focused heavily on assisting Pacific Island countries with fulfilling their 1540 reporting obligations. New Zealand also "provides targeted, practical assistance" for problems that are sometimes "overlooked by countries that are not familiar with the challenges facing small island states." [14]

Comprised of twenty-seven states, the ARF represents the most comprehensive regional organization in East Asia and the Pacific with a focus on security issues. The ARF has hosted a range of relevant workshops and Inter-Sessional Meetings (ISMs) focusing specifically on 1540 and trade controls. While the ARF lacks institutionalized enforcement structures, verification mechanisms and official sanctions, its informal consultative approach seems to be cultivating a consensus toward capacity-building in the region. The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) Study Group on Countering the Proliferation of WMD in the Asia-Pacific, initiated in 2004, represents an important and parallel Track II approach to the ARF. The group has convened seventeen meetings on the subject and produced a Handbook on Preventing the Proliferation of WMD in the Asia Pacific. [15] The seventeenth meeting was held in Manila back-to-back with the fifth ARF ISM on NPD and attended by many of the same officials.

Since 2001, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has increased activities related to counterterrorism and secure trade. [16] To that end, APEC established the Secure Trade in the APEC Region (STAR) Initiative in 2002 and the Counter-Terrorism Task Force (CTTF) in 2003. [17] These primarily endeavor to prevent non-state actors from disrupting the supply chains of member economies. Unlike the ARF, APEC has the advantage of established links to key stakeholders in the private sector, which could be leveraged in order to reach industry and improve awareness of strategic trade controls. [18]

Back to Top

1540 Implementation Challenges

Although initiatives in East Asia and the Pacific have increased in recent years, and regional organizations have begun to take a more proactive approach toward 1540 implementation, overall progress in the region-particularly in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific-remains a challenge. The 1540 Committee, along with leading assistance providers such as the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, will continue to support efforts to institutionalize 1540-related policies and activities. However, limited political will from regional states and organizations remains a key factor slowing the effective implementation of the resolution.

Many countries in the region continue to view export controls as a potential threat to economic progress. In order to address these concerns, 1540 supporters in the international community are seeking to emphasize how improving the management of sensitive materials can help promote economic development. For many of the countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, improvements in port security and border controls can have an overarching positive effect on national economic and security needs. As countries in the region become more capable of manufacturing and trading high-technology commodities, their ability to control dual-use materials-both from the import and export sides-will increase in importance. Major trading partners already consider a state's ability to abide by international standards in relation to strategic trade management when deciding whether a destination country is a safe trade partner. Ports in the region will also need to be seen as capable of combating illicit trafficking and transshipment if they are to grow and be seen by global partners as secure.

Back to Top

[1] Northeast Asia consists of China, Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea [DPRK], Japan, Mongolia, and the Republic of Korea [ROK]. Southeast Asia consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic [Laos], Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. The South Pacific consists of Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua-New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
[2] "Xinjiang: China Jails 20 for Terrorism and Separatism," BBC, August 2, 2012, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
[3] "Profile: Jemaah Islamiah," BBC, February 2, 2012, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
[4] "The Philippines: Local politics in the Sulu Archipelago and the Peace Process," International Crisis Group, May 15, 2012, www.crisisgroup.org.
[5] "Megaports Initiative 2010," National Nuclear Safety Administration, September 2010, http://nnsa.energy.gov.
[6] "Top 50 World Container Ports," World Shipping Council, www.worldshipping.org.
[7] "Top 50 World Container Ports," World Shipping Council, www.worldshipping.org.
[8] "ASEAN Regional Forum," Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, April 10, 2012, www.nonproliferation.org.
[9] Masako Toki and Stephanie Lieggi, "Japan's Struggle to Limit Illegal Dual-Use Exports," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 2008, http://thebulletin.org.
[10] 1540 Committee, "Summary Requests for Assistance from Member States," United Nations, www.un.org.
[11] Stephanie Lieggi, "Trade Controls in Southeast Asia: Taking a Regional Approach," WorldECR, Issue 13, June 2012.
[12] "Container Security Initiative Ports," U.S. Department of Homeland Security, www.dhs.gov.
[13] 1540 Committee, "Summary Requests for Assistance from Member States," United Nations, www.un.org.
[14] "List of ARF Track I Activities (By Subject)," ASEAN Regional Forum, http://aseanregionalforum.asean.org.
[15] Stephanie Lieggi, "Trade Controls in Southeast Asia: Taking a Regional Approach," WorldECR, Issue 13, June 2012.
[16] "Counter-Terrorism Task Force," APEC, www.apec.org.
[17] Stephanie Lieggi, "Trade Controls in Southeast Asia: Taking a Regional Approach," WorldECR, Issue 13, June 2012.
[18] "Outcomes from the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit," CSIS, www.csis.org.

CNS logo

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2015.


This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in East Asia and the Pacific to-date.

the Terrorism Threat

WMD terrorism is a threat to global security. In 2010 testimony, the U.S. director of national intelligence said that dozens of identified domestic and international terrorists and terrorist groups have expressed intent to obtain and use WMD in future acts of terrorism.