With the world facing renewed anxieties over nuclear warfare and grappling with the threat of cyber attacks and terrorism, Asean nations and eight of their key partners yesterday vowed to step up cooperation in a range of security areas.
East Asia Summit (EAS) members agreed to do more to tackle returning foreign fighters, beef up cyber security, and ensure the safe and secure use, storage and transport of nuclear and other radioactive materials.
They also said they would press on with efforts on the Asean Smart Cities Network, a flagship deliverable under Singapore's Asean chairmanship this year, and the fight against plastic litter in the oceans.
The 18-country EAS - which groups all 10 Asean members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States - released five statements after its meeting yesterday.
COUNTERING THE TERROR THREAT
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that terrorism and violent extremism remain a grave concern.
"South-east Asia is on the frontline," he told his counterparts as he wrapped up their discussion.
The region is not just a recruiting ground for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it is also a target in the extremist group's expansion plans, he added. ISIS, after all, has made clear that it wants to set up a caliphate in South-east Asia.
The prolonged siege in Marawi in the Philippines may have ended, but insurgents have regrouped, PM Lee pointed out. And ISIS has been linked to terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as close to 50 thwarted attack plots - including one against Singapore.
"The region also faces heightened threat of attack from returnee fighters and lone wolves," he said. "Therefore, it is more important than ever for continued cooperation among countries."
Among other things, EAS members pledged to get the public - including young people, women, families, religious leaders and community groups - more involved in efforts to inoculate the community against violent extremism.
They also agreed to share information on foreign fighters - including on their movements and financial information - in a timely manner, and do more to stop them from crossing borders.
With cyber security under discussion, the EAS members said they were determined to promote secure and resilient information and communications technologies (ICT) infrastructure, noting that this can contribute to regional security and stability.
They will work together to promote an open, secure, stable, accessible and peaceful ICT environment - which is critical to connectivity and economic development - and, recognising that some states may lack the capacity to protect their networks, provide help on issues such as developing technical skills.
They also recognised the importance of strengthening cooperation on personal data protection. They said they would address the digital divide and development gap by supporting initiatives such as helping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises make use of these technologies.
It is important to ensure the safety and security of nuclear and other radioactive materials, EAS members said.
They agreed that nuclear energy and technology could play useful roles in fields such as medicine, agriculture and energy.
Acknowledging that all states have the right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, consistent with international law, they pointed out that acts of nuclear terrorism could pose a threat to international peace and security.
The members encouraged all states to build a robust domestic nuclear safety and security regime and conduct exercises to prepare their communities for incidents involving radioactive materials.
They reaffirmed that non-state actors should be prevented from developing, acquiring, transporting or using nuclear weapons.
COMBATING MARINE PLASTIC DEBRIS
They also took aim at a problem plaguing the environment: The rise of plastic litter in the oceans, which places marine biodiversity, as well as industries such as fisheries, maritime transport and tourism at risk.
More can be done, including in improving the management of plastic waste, promoting research and education on marine plastic debris, and enhancing cooperation in policy reform and law enforcement.
ASEAN SMART CITIES
EAS members also recognised that developing a regional smart cities ecosystem will help the region weather challenges arising from rapid urbanisation and allow them to "harvest the opportunities associated with the ongoing digital and fourth industrial revolution" for better economic, social and environmental outcomes.
The Asean Smart Cities Network, they agreed, would help uplift the lives of Asean citizens.
"There is still much more to be done for the EAS to evolve into an anchor platform for maintaining regional peace, stability and prosperity," said PM Lee.
He added: "I am confident that with the continued support of participating countries, the EAS will continue to grow from strength to strength, and play an essential role in strengthening our open, inclusive and Asean-centric regional architecture."