Security challenges, territorial disputes need world leaders to work closely together: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong during the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 8, 2016.
PM Lee Hsien Loong during the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 8, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

VIENTIANE - Multiple developments are threatening the peace and security of the region, and will require world leaders to work closely together if they are to be resolved, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Sept 8).

The growing threat of extremist terrorism was among the slew of security issues in focus at the 11th East Asia Summit (EAS), an annual gathering of state leaders held after the Asean Summit in Vientiane.

Mr Lee said attacks by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) and similar militant groups are taking place in the Asia Pacific and Asean's backyard, such as the blast in the Philippine city of  Davao last Friday, and the region "has become a fertile breeding and recruiting ground for violent extremism".

"We know ISIS wants to establish a wilayat (province) in South-east Asia," he told the gathering of leaders from 18 countries, including the United States and China. "We have terrorist organisations that have been present in South-east Asia for some time, like the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, which are linking up with ISIS in the Middle East and other groups such as Uighurs in China."

Self-radicalisation is also becoming more common, he added. And such individuals, acting alone, are difficult to stop as they do not have existing records and may not be known to authorities.

Mr Lee reaffirmed Singapore's commitment to do what it can to combat extremism, including working closely with neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia to share intelligence and maintain vigilance, while sharing experiences on religious rehabilitation.

Singapore has also contributed planners, an imagery analysis team and a KC-135R tanker aircraft to the anti-ISIS coalition. From next year, Singapore will also send a medical support team to assist the coalition.

Another issue is North Korea's "deliberate and provocative" actions in the Korean Peninsula which are worrying, said Mr Lee.

On Monday, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast in the direction of Japan while world leaders were meeting in China for a Group of 20 (G-20) summit.

 

"Any disruption to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula will have far-reaching consequences for our region," said Mr Lee.

The South China Sea dispute should likewise be resolved peacefully, he said, adding that Singapore's position is "well-enunciated and unchanged".

Mr Lee said it was good that the situation in the sea "has not escalated significantly in the last few months", and he welcomed initial steps between China and the Philippines to resume dialogue on the matter.

He noted that Asean and China's agreement on Wednesday to apply a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (Cues) and make hotline arrangements for maritime emergencies show that both sides want to take a constructive approach towards the issue.

But while these arrangements are confidence-building, more has to be done, he said.

"It is important to still have a credible and legally·binding Code of Conduct (COC)," said Mr Lee, who welcomed China's commitment to fast-track negotiations on the COC and work with Asean on a framework for the COC by the middle of next year.

Three statements and declarations were also adopted at the EAS meeting: a declaration promoting infrastructure development cooperation in East Asia, a statement on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a declaration on strengthening responses to migrants-in-crisis and trafficking-in-persons.

Mr Lee also renewed his call for EAS members to keep working to ensure that the forum remains robust and relevant, such as by preserving its Asean-centric nature and its current "optimal composition".

"All of us want a region with growth, peace and stability," he said. "EAS is the platform that allows us to cooperate and tackle our challenges together."