The threat of militancy and terrorism remains potent in South-east Asia as a result of the setbacks suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East, Malaysian armed forces chief Zulkefli Mohd Zin told a regional security dialogue in Beijing yesterday.
He said ISIS militants compelled to return from the Middle East could reconnect with ex-comrades and trigger terrorist acts at home, mirroring what happened in the early 2000s when those who returned from the Afghan conflict formed the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah which carried out a wave of attacks in South-east Asia.
The losses by ISIS have also led to "striking collaboration" between the militants and criminal groups, said General Zulkefli. He said their aim was to gain income from kidnapping, drug trafficking and the illicit sale of antiques from captured territories.
He called for deeper international cooperation on counter-terrorism. "Whatever measures an individual nation takes to counter terrorism will never be enough. They must be augmented and strengthened through collaboration with other countries," he said in a speech at the Xiangshan Forum.
As well as terrorism, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are expected to dominate discussions at the three-day forum, which is seen as China's version of the Shangri-La Dialogue held yearly in Singapore.
Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan, a member of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) that oversees the People's Liberation Army (PLA), will give a keynote address today at the forum's official opening. The event is jointly organised by the Chinese Academy of Military Science, a research institution within the PLA, and the China International Strategic Society, a think-tank.
First held in 2006, the forum was upgraded in 2014 from an academic exchange to a ministerial-level dialogue. The upgrade was seen as China's bid to improve interactions with regional defence and security personnel and ensure its stance on security issues would be properly disseminated.
Speaking yesterday at a cocktail reception, Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the CMC's Joint Staff Department, said the forum's reputation was on the rise as he urged delegates to speak freely. Some 400 delegates from 59 countries and six international organisations are attending this year's forum.
Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung will speak in a plenary session at the forum today and hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines.