Rise of terrorism one of the key challenges in Asia-Pacific, says Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein speaking at a discussion on challenges facing the Asia-Pacific at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (June 3). ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - One of the key challenges facing the Asia-Pacific is religious extremism and combating the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region.

As the terrorist group suffers losses in the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region is now firmly in its crosshairs, said Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Speaking at a discussion on challenges on managing crises facing the Asia-Pacific at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (June 3), Datuk Seri Hishammuddin said the threat from ISIS was both "real and multi-dimensional" and had to be met head on.

The threat is one that Malaysia feels acutely, he added, pointing out that the country arrested six people with links to ISIS in the last week, and has made 250 more arrests between 2013 and 2016.

To combat the growth of terrorism, countries would have to fight terrorism by promoting peace, winning the "war of ideas" and countering extremist ideology, said Mr Hishammuddin.

"The Daesh threat cannot be solved by bombing certain countries into submission," he said, using the Arabic term for ISIS.

One way to solve such problems would be to work together with other nations within regional groups such as Asean, the Malaysian minister said.

He pointed to an initiative by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to carry out patrols in the Sulu Sea, an area that ISIS has declared part of its "South-east Asia" caliphate.

Announcing that maritime patrols in the area would start on June 19 and that a date for air patrols would soon be set, he said:

"Between the three of us, there was a realisation that to face the militants we do not need to get all 10 Asean countries together.

"Do not wait for everybody to agree - if you can get just three (countries) to agree on an objective... dealing with an enemy that is very clear and very focused, I will agree that we can be able to do a bit more than what we are doing today."

Mr Hishammuddin added that nations would have to commit strongly to such regional cooperation to overcome challenges of the future.

He also outlined other challenges facing the region, including the rise of fake news and populism, and the escalating volatility in the Korean peninsula.

Also on the panel were Canada's Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan, and General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, chairman of the Pakistan Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Mr Sajjan highlighted escalating regional tensions in the Asia-Pacific, calling on states to exercise restraint and avoid actions that would escalate tensions further.

General Zubair raised the issue of a growing refugee population and pointed out that the issue has put stress on Pakistan's internal security situation.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is an annual summit attended by defence chiefs.

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