Cybersecurity a critical area for closer cooperation between Asean and Australia: PM Lee

(From left) Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei's Sultan and Prime Minister Sultan Bokliah, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-cha, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak wave as they pose for a photo at the Asean-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on March 17, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY - Asean and Australia should work closer together on cybersecurity issues, which range from Internet crimes to fake news, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (March 18).

In a speech to other Asean leaders and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a plenary session at the Asean-Australia Special Summit, he noted that cybercrimes are a transboundary problem that is difficult to police.

"It can have a drastic impact on our populations, for example in terms of critical infrastructure; and it can be insidious - undermining the trust which holds our societies together, for example through fake news."

The world is getting more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats, not less, he added, and so it is essential for governments to develop new rules and norms to cope with the challenge.

There is also potential for this region to play a role in the international discourse on cyber-security, Mr Lee said, noting that a proposed Asean-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue can be a platform for greater policy exchange and capacity-building.

Another promising area for strategic cooperation is in developing smart cities, he said.

A new Asean-Australia Smart Cities Initiative, announced by Mr Turnbull on Saturday, complements the Asean Smart Cities Network initiative and Asean's Masterplan on Asean Connectivity 2025, he added.

"We look forward to working with Australia and its businesses to promote urban development and innovation throughout the region."

Mr Lee also reiterated how important it was for the region to redouble its resolve to pursue trade liberalisation and regional economic integration.

"This is especially crucial as global mood is shifting against international trade and globalisation. The US has imposed tariffs on solar panels, aluminium and steel, and are contemplating further, more dramatic measures," he said.

"These steps could easily lead to tit-for-tat responses and a trade war. This will be very harmful to Asean economies, as well as Australia's, because we are all highly dependent on international trade."

The next step to take, Mr Lee said, is to work on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact involving Asean, China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea.

"We should intensify our efforts to conclude a forward-looking and mutually beneficial agreement. One which includes all the major players in the Asian region and which will match and support our goal of an open and inclusive regional architecture," he said.

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"We hope to conclude such an RCEP by this year which will possible provided all the RCEP members, Asean, Australia, as well as the rest, put in their best efforts."

In his opening remarks at the plenary session, Mr Turnbull said Australia was committed to backing Asean as the "strategic convener of the region".

"Over the past 50 years Asean has used its influence to defuse tension, build peace, encourage economic cooperation and support to maintain the rule of law."

Referencing Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Turnbull added: "To quote your chairman's father, we want to have a region where the big fish do not eat the little fish and the little fish the shrimps. We want a region where everybody, regardless of their size, is respected in their sovereignty and their ability to determine their own course."

Following the plenary session in the morning, the group of leaders will hear from business leaders who attended an Asean-Autralia Business Summit earlier this week, as well as law enforcement experts who had participated in a counter-terrorism conference on Saturday.

The Asean leaders and Mr Turnbull will then have their own retreat, where Mr Turnbull said they will discuss some of the region's most pressing security challenges, "including how to respond strongly and effectively to the deadly threat posed by North Korea".

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