One of the minor security initiatives that have been undertakered in recent years in Southeast Asia has been the new Trilateral Cooperation Mechanism to address a number of transnational challenges in the Sulu Sea between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Given that the mechanism is expected to continue to take shape in 2019, it is worth considering where it stands, where it is and what awaits it. Discussions also focused on monitoring the strengthening of trilateral cooperation. Following the Indonesian Ministry of Defence`s report on the meeting, Mr. Ryacudu reiterated the importance of focusing on training training for rural patrols. This is in addition to existing cooperation at lower levels, including increased coordination between the affected maritime command centres and the exchange of information between the three parties. Last week, the trilateral mechanism made headlines again when the three defence ministers – the Dauphin Lorenzana of the Philippines, Ryamizard Ryacudu of Indonesia and Mohamad Sabu of Malaysia (the newcomer to the group that had just taken his place in a new government in Malaysia after the May elections) met in Manila. The meeting is part of a series of agreements at the operational level, with the three countries trying to develop aspects of trilateral cooperation. The details of the operationalization of the drilling and its impact on the future development of Sulu`s trilateral maritime patrols in general are not yet clear. Details have not been formally confirmed by the three pages, including the exact date of the exercise, specific identity numbers and location. And while there has been talk of more robust future measures, including the deployment of a common ground force to areas such as the southern Philippines, Ryacudu was more cautious in its recent statements and noted that the process would continue gradually, with the participation of other actors, including foreign ministries, as well as a gradual approach to organizing exercises to develop details that would address some of the remaining challenges. As I have already seen in these pages and elsewhere, one of the most important developments in minilateral cooperation in Southeast Asia in recent years has been the promotion of trilateral cooperation between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. After a series of abductions of nationals by militant groups in mid-2016, cooperation took shape in 2017 and until 2018 as a trilateral cooperation agreement (TCA), with maritime and air patrols and the establishment of operational hubs in each country.
More than a year ago, in May 2016, the three states agreed on joint patrols and information exchanges, following a series of kidnappings for ransom of foreigners by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf, who has a base on the southernmost islands of the Philippines, had beheaded some victims when the ransoms were not paid. (Id.; Ryan Healy, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia agree on anti-Piracy Patrols, Center for Security Policy Website (May 6, 2016).) A photo of the previous launch of trilateral air patrols common to subang Military Airfield in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Thursday, October 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) This week, this aspect of the ongoing trilateral cooperation between the three countries made headlines again when Indonesia confirmed that the three countries had indeed agreed to practice together for months in Tarakan, Northern California. In local and international media, Ryacudu said on 12 June that the exercise would aim to promote joint cooperation in the border regions of Denland, in order to address a wide range of transnational challenges, with particular emphasis on terrorism and the lingering fears of Islamic State militants in the region.