Asean Summit: PM Lee proposes symposium on deradicalisation

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong listens to the speech during the plenary session of the 25th ASEAN summit at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong listens to the speech during the plenary session of the 25th ASEAN summit at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NAYPYITAW (Myanmar) - The response to the threat of militant group ISIS cannot be purely military, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a meeting of the East Asia Summit (EAS) on Friday, as he noted that the situation in Iraq and Syria was complex and that there were no simple solutions.

But it was still necessary to fight, contain and weaken ISIS. At the same time, countries had to tackle the ideological roots of extremism - the reason why ISIS has been able to attract foreign fighters from faraway regions, including Southeast Asia, he said.

To this end, Mr Lee said Singapore proposed to conduct an EAS symposium on deradicalisation of extremists to share best practices among experts.

"We have a little bit of experience on this because we have been working on detainees who we picked up after Sept 11, 2001, who were connected to Al Qaeda and who were planning several terrorist attacks in Singapore," he said.

Mr Lee's remarks were part of a call he made to leaders in the EAS to enhance collaboration on a range of issues, including finance, as well as on new non-traditional security threats like Ebola and terrorism.

His comments also came as the EAS was set to issue a strong declaration to work closer together in combating the threat of extremism.

Last week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament that Singapore would contribute join the 33-nation United States-led multinational coalition against ISIS, by contributing liaison and planning officers, a KC-135R tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling and an imagery analysis team.

On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters here that it was incumbent on the international community to do something about the threat because returned fighters were "going to be a serious threat to every society, not just the societies they return to".

"The more who come together to deal with this threat in a variety of ways, the better it is," he added. "It's a fight that has to be conducted on several fronts."

Singapore's approach to dealing with over 60 Jemaah Islamiah members and other radicals detained over the years since 2002 has involved psychological as well as religious rehabilitation - including by Islamic scholars who counter militant views - and this has seen over two-thirds of those held released.

In his remarks to EAS leaders on Thursday, Mr Lee noted that the EAS had made much progress since it was created 10 years ago.

But he said the gathering should also focus on strengthening economic integration and keep markets open, including through high-quality regional agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both of which are potential pathways to a possible Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

The EAS also had to continue to maintain peace and stability in the region.

US-China relations are the linchpin for regional stability, Mr Lee said, adding that Singapore welcomed positive and regular discussions between both major powers.

He also welcomed resumed talks among China, Japan and South Korea.

"How we manage hotspots in our region will signal our commitment to development and to regional cooperation," he said.

All countries had an interest in the peace and security of the region, and freedom of navigation and overflight, particularly through the South China Sea, Mr Lee said, as he called on all parties to respect the principles of resolving disputes peacefully, the primacy of international law, and to avoid the use or threat of force.

He also said the EAS had become an "indispensable part" of the Asean-led regional architecture, helping to preserve peace and stability conducive for growth, and serving as a platform for constructive dialogue among major powers.

"It is a way for us to channel our efforts to improve the lives of our peoples," he said.

Mr Lee also called on fellow leaders to step up functional cooperation which would provide heft and balance to the EAS.

He added that as the EAS approaches its 10th anniversary next year, he looked forward to working together to improve the existing framework and make the forum more effective and relevant.

zakirh@sph.com.sg