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Issues & Insights Vol. 20, WP 4 – Conflict and Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is Impacting Southeast Asia’s Conflicts

  • Jennifer Howe

    Pacific Forum Research Intern



Since COVID-19 spread out of China in January 2020, it has caused unprecedented damage to the global economy and national health systems. The virus also having serious ramifications for conflicts throughout the world.  This paper reviews the literature up to its time of writing in July 2020 in order to assess how the coronavirus crisis has impacted conflicts in Southeast Asia. The paper found that the pandemic has been detrimental to conflict resolution in the region—it has hampered peacebuilding efforts and contributed to rising tensions. Moreover, the outbreak has enabled extremist organizations to operate more freely and make government lockdowns and the economic downturn a part of their recruitment messaging. Conflict-affected populations are confronted by the dual impact of disease and violence—health systems have been weakened by years of conflict, violence is obstructing the delivery of aid, and forcibly displaced communities are living in unsanitary and crowded camps, incapable of handling a viral outbreak. Women in unstable settings are particularly vulnerable as gender-based violence increases, while services essential to their health and wellbeing are being forced to close. The paper concludes with policy recommendations in view of the effects the virus is having on Southeast Asian conflicts. Recommendations emphasize the importance of supporting local peacebuilders and implementing response and recovery measures that work towards a fairer post-pandemic society.