Australia, Singapore join hands to fight violent extremism

Ministers direct officials to prevent Internet technologies from being exploited for terror

Singapore and Australia yesterday agreed to cooperate on combating violent extremism and ensuring that technology firms prevent the spread of hate speech and intolerance in the wake of the Christchurch mass shooting.

Following a meeting in Sydney of their ministers for foreign affairs, defence and trade, the two countries said they had directed officials to prevent Internet technologies from being exploited for terrorist purposes.

"In the shadow of this horrific attack, the ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to inclusion and diversity," said a joint statement by the ministers.

Yesterday's ministerial meeting coincided with a national remembrance service in New Zealand for the 50 people killed in the attack by a white supremacist at two mosques on March 15.

At a news conference after the meeting, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said that new media and technologies had allowed for the promotion of hate speech and posed a threat to the "broad centre" of society.

"There is a need for the Internet technology companies to also take responsibility. They will have to be part of the solution," he said.

"The advances in digital technology and the rise of new media, and the impact… of having broadcasting being replaced by narrowcasting, and the development of echo chambers which affirm, and sometimes inflame, very partisan views have not helped to build and strengthen the broad centre."

Dr Balakrishnan added: "It is something that governments, the private sector and civil society will have to engage in."

The Christchurch attacks, in which the gunman live-streamed the massacre on Facebook, has led to growing calls for technology firms to ensure that their platforms are not exploited by extremists. Australia is pushing for an upcoming summit in Japan of world leaders from the Group of 20 major advanced economies, to address social media oversight as a priority.

Australia and Singapore had discussed the scope for cooperating to push the G-20 to lead a coordinated international response, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said yesterday. She noted that Singapore was a hub for technology firms and had a strong role to play.

"Singapore is in the box seat in relation to some of the technology capacity that is relevant here. We have absolutely identified the need to ensure that wherever we see extremism - whatever form it takes - that we are calling it out, that we are addressing it and that we are working collaboratively in our region to… deter those who would seek to cause us harm," said Ms Payne.

The ministerial meeting yesterday included the two foreign ministers, as well as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Australian counterpart Christopher Pyne, and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham.

Dr Ng said Singapore and Australia had discussed efforts to share intelligence. "We again agreed on the need to have intelligence sharing, both in anticipation of the returned fighters from Iraq and Syria, as well as unfortunately, the expected reprisals coming out from the Christchurch incident," he said.

The meeting also discussed the need to bolster free international trade and to prevent tensions rising in the South China Sea.

Dr Balakrishnan said Australia and Singapore faced similar challenges in the region due to their close economic links to China and security links to the United States.

Yesterday's meeting marked the 11th such gathering of ministers from the two countries.

SEE WORLD: NZ can be nation that discovers cure for hate, Ardern says at memorial

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline 'Australia, S'pore join hands to fight violent extremism'. Print Edition | Subscribe