Region needs rules, norms to tackle cyber threats: PM

He calls for Asean, Australia to work very closely on issues ranging from Net crimes to fake news

PM Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull (right) attend a joint press conference at the close of the Asean-Australia Special Summit, in Sydney, on March 18, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

It is essential for the region to develop new rules and norms to deal with cyber security threats, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, as he called for Asean and Australia to work more closely together on issues ranging from Internet crimes to fake news.

The world, he said yesterday, is getting more vulnerable to cyber security threats, not less. He was addressing fellow Asean leaders and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Asean-Australia Special Summit, which both co-chaired. Singapore is Asean chair this year.

PM Lee noted that cyber crime is a transboundary problem, and 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," he said.

The Asean-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue proposed at the summit can be a platform for greater exchange and capacity-building, he added. "The world is getting more vulnerable to cyber security threats, not less vulnerable. It's essential for us to develop new rules and norms and there's potential for our region to play a role in international discourse."

PM Lee's comments come at a time when Singapore is debating the question of how it should combat deliberate falsehoods online. A rarely convened Select Committee is interviewing experts and community leaders these few weeks, before making its recommendations.

Yesterday, PM Lee outlined a second promising area for strategic cooperation between Asean and Australia: Developing smart cities.

A new Asean-Australia Smart Cities Initiative, announced by Mr Turnbull last Saturday, complements the Asean Smart Cities Network initiative and Asean's Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025, said PM Lee.

The Asean-Australia initiative will see Australia providing A$30 million (S$30.6 million) over the next five years to help Asean develop cities in smart and sustainable ways. Australia will provide training and technical assistance, support efforts to advance sustainable urbanisation, and establish a regional urbanisation forum.

"Australia has world-class expertise to share in fields such as green infrastructure, renewable energy and data analytics," a statement on the initiative issued yesterday said.

At a joint press conference with PM Lee at the end of the summit, Mr Turnbull said an important aspect of the initiative will be the sharing of knowledge and experience across governments. "The business world is much more globally connected than the world of policy. It is businesses that tend to know exactly what is going on in their field around the world," he noted.

"Governments are less aware and policymakers less aware so it's very important to use platforms and forums and organisations like Asean and our engagement to make sure that we're learning from each other, because basically we're all grappling with the same problems."

The two-day special summit concluded with the issuing of a joint statement, The Sydney Declaration, which noted "a new era" in Asean-Australia relations and sets out the partners' commitment to boost cooperation in areas ranging from investment to security.

"We strongly believe that a free, open and rules-based multilateral trading system is the key to the region's growth and prosperity," said PM Lee, while Mr Turnbull noted that there were "no protectionists" around the table. Both sides also committed to intensify efforts this year to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

"This will send a clear signal to Asean's external partners and all other countries of our commitment to promote international trade, oppose protectionism, and keep the regional architecture open and inclusive," said PM Lee.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline Region needs rules, norms to tackle cyber threats: PM. Subscribe