Identifying terrorism as the region's most serious security threat, Asean defence ministers agreed yesterday to step up cooperation to fight it, and to conduct their first maritime exercise with China to strengthen regional security.
In a joint statement following the two-day Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) Retreat, defence chiefs from the regional bloc condemned terrorist attacks around the world, noting: "Terrorism is a severe threat to Asean's progress, prosperity and very way of life."
Ministers said the scale and complexity of the terrorist threat in the region continue to grow with the influx of returning terrorist fighters, who move across borders.
"The Asean defence ministers agreed to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation among our defence establishments, and with our external partners," said the statement.
The ministers also said they would step up practical cooperation through measures including joint exercises and training, explore new ways to collaborate, and work together to counter terrorist propaganda and "promote positive messages of respect, inclusion and moderation".
The 10 ministers and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi met behind closed doors, during which they were given briefings by Professor Joseph Liow of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Mr Mike Poore, a senior intelligence analyst from the United States.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen led the talks on key security issues at the meeting, at which ministers expressed their support for ADMM's objectives for this year, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement.
Besides fighting terrorism, the ministers also committed to improving Asean's capability to respond to chemical, biological and radiological threats from terrorist groups and rogue states, and reaffirmed the importance of having a code for unplanned encounters in both air and sea.
Established 12 years ago, the ADMM is a key platform for dialogue on regional security issues. Singapore is chairing it for the second time in its role as chairman of Asean this year.
Singapore also chairs the ADMM-Plus, which was formed in 2010 and comprises the 10 Asean countries plus eight key partners for the grouping: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
The formal ADMM and ADMM-Plus meetings will be held in October.
After the retreat, the ministers had an informal meeting with Chinese Minister of National Defence Chang Wanquan.
They discussed ways to improve cooperation between China and Asean, and said they would conduct an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise at the end of the year, said Mindef.
Dr Ng, who co-chaired the meeting with General Chang, called his Chinese counterpart a "very good and solid friend of Asean".
"He has done a lot personally to try to move our bilateral defence relationship between China and Asean forward," said Dr Ng.
Gen Chang said that China has a "deep friendship" with Asean, and noted that his country's development would bring opportu-nities for cooperation with the regional grouping.
Gen Chang arrived on Sunday for a five-day introductory visit, and will call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today.
Earlier yesterday, the Asean defence ministers visited the Singapore Airshow and jointly called on Mr Lee, who hosted a lunch for them at the Changi Exhibition Centre.