Philippine unrest will affect region: Najib

Malaysia has invested resources to achieve long-term peace in the southern Philippines, said Mr Najib at the Putrajaya Forum.
Malaysia has invested resources to achieve long-term peace in the southern Philippines, said Mr Najib at the Putrajaya Forum.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR • A destabilised southern Philippines will open the door for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group to establish a foothold in the region, warned Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

He said Malaysia had invested a lot of effort, money and time to find long-term peace in the conflict-racked southern Philippines, reported The Star Online.

"Let me make this clear that we wish and we want the next president of the Philippines to continue the good work of President (Benigno) Aquino," he said on Monday during the opening of the Putrajaya Forum 2016, a biennial event that aims to boost regional defence cooperation.

The forum was held in conjunction with the 15th Defence Services Asia Exhibition and Conference, which showcases the latest developments in the defence technology industry.

The southern Philippines has seen escalating attacks by militant groups after its main Muslim rebel group failed to seal a peace pact.

Territorial disputes and issues of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the potential nuclear escalation in the Korean peninsula and the destabilisation in the Middle East are global concerns, said Datuk Seri Najib.

He added: "The age-old scourge of piracy has also not been consigned to history."

Citing the example of Malaysia-registered tankers MT Orkim Harmony and Orkim Victory, which were attacked by pirates last June, Mr Najib said it was "only through working together with neighbouring countries" that the hijacked vessels were located.

He also attributed the peace in the Asean region to the grouping's tradition of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member countries.

But a line has to be drawn when domestic affairs become a humanitarian issue or tragedy like the Rohingya refugee crisis, Mr Najib said.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who spoke at a plenary session at the forum, highlighted the importance of anchoring the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in a set of key principles and common goals for it to remain relevant.

He said: "First, the ADMM shall respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each Asean member state, even as we build the Asean community."

Dr Ng also said members' cooperation should be on a "voluntary, non-binding and flexible basis".

The third key principle is to maintain "an open and inclusive regional security architecture with Asean at the centre", he said.

"We cannot tackle many of the security challenges that we face today by ourselves. We must be ready and willing to work with partners from around the world who also have a stake in the security and stability of our region. The Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea are clear examples," Dr Ng said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Philippine unrest will affect region: Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe