Asia prepares for worst-case scenario following US strike on Soleimani
The Philippines makes preparations for evacuation while India and Thailand fear damage to trade
Asian leaders are observing the face of the U.S. and Iran with the Philippines planning to evacuate thousands of its people from the Middle east.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon with top security, police and military leaders. “The president has tasked the military to plan its air and naval assets to evacuate and repatriate our countrymen if and when open hostilities erupt in the Middle East that may harm their lives,” the Department of Defense said in its announcement.
The statement highlighted the importance of ensuring the safety of 6,000 Philippines living in Iraq and 1,600 in Iran.
The US killed Iran’s leading general, Qassem Soleimani, on Friday in the international airport of Baghdad in a drone strike. Iran has vowed to repress US assets, while the USA. President Donald Trump cautioned of “swift and tough” attacks on 52 Iranian goals.
Tehran also declared on Sunday that it would not stick to its commitments in the 2015 global nuclear deal, raising the fears of a renewed march on nuclear weapons.
Other Asian countries share the apprehension of the Philippines.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia announced on Saturday that it is “concerned with the escalating situation” and that its Iraqi citizens are “always exercise caution.”
Tensions impact Jakarta beyond the interests of people from abroad. Oil prices soared, and the rupiah was put under pressure. On Friday the currency fell 0.5% from the dollar, hitting its lowest level in just over a week. The fall began on Monday, causing the Indonesian central bank help “to stabilise movements,” in the currency market, Reuters reported.
Thai electricity leaders and executives arranged an emergency meeting on Monday in Bangkok. Energy Minister Sonthirat Sontijirawong said that the Kingdom has an inventory of about 3 billion litres of additional crude oil, which will take about 50 days, and another 100,000 tons of liquefied petroleum, or a total value of 17 days.
Pimchanok Vonkorpon, General Manager of the Thai Bureau of Commercial Policy and Strategy, said that Thai exports would face more headwinds if the situation goes worse because the crisis will disrupt not only shipments to the Middle East but perhaps to Africa too.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday that he is “deeply concerned.” Abe met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tokyo in December and discussed ways to de-escalate Middle East tensions. His office has also authorised the operation of Japanese ships by the Self-Defense Forces in the region.
Abe has no intention to replenish the SDF stock. “We will send the Self-Defense Forces and secure the safety of ships related to Japan,” he said.
India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, tweeted on Sunday to talk to the U.S. on the phone. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during the call he “emphasised India’s stakes and concerns” as the Gulf region’s southern Asian country is dependent on Gulf crude.
China, for its part, adopted a harsher stance on U.S. Middle East activities with Reuters stating that on Monday foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang blamed Washington for escalating regional instability. Beijing encouraged both stakeholders to work for peace and stability.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Leader, has called for cool heads.
Erdogan revealed to the media that he has been talking to several leaders, including Rouhani, since the drone strike. “I advised restraint,” Erdogan told the Iranian president of his call. But in a somewhat veiled reproach of the U.S., he said, “The Middle East is very tired, and some people are always making the area a blood lake.”