Asian economies doing well, but continued prosperity depends on other factors: PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Asia's economies are on an upward trend, having weathered the recent global financial crisis much better than expected, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.

But whether the region continues to prosper will depend on how Asian countries work through some of the non-economic issues on the horizon, he said in remarks at the inaugural Singapore Forum held at the Shangri-La hotel.

Mr Lee highlighted three key areas of concern in Asia: the trend of rising nationalism, territorial disputes and extremist terrorism.

The growing strength of nationalist sentiments are a response to globalisation and uncertainty, and can have positive outcomes such as giving people pride and pushing them to do well, he said to about 250 political and business leaders at a dinner to kick off the forum.

But taken to an extreme, such sentiments could also cause people to turn inwards and reignite historical conflicts between nations, Mr Lee warned.

He also said territorial issues, such as disputes over islands in the South China Sea, could cause friction between countries. While these disputes have not escalated into wars, they produce tensions that will not just disappear, he added.

The territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The third area of concern that Mr Lee flagged was extremist terrorism and the security threat that it poses.

While ISIS is "far away in the Middle East", it is just a click away on the Internet, he noted. Over the last few years, the terrorist group has lured thousands of followers from foreign countries, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Mr Lee urged policymakers in South-east Asia to take the terrorist threat seriously.

The two-day Singapore Forum, which will be held yearly, is a chance for Asia's policymakers and thought leaders to come together to discuss the challenges facing the region.