SUNNYLANDS, California - While South-east Asia is far away from the Middle East, the threat of the militant group known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is very real in the region, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the US-Asean Leaders Summit on Tuesday.
He said that though it was unlikely that ISIS followers would be able to overturn an Asean government and form a caliphate, the group would certainly be able to set up base.
"They (ISIS) think, or some of their followers think that they can overturn governments in South-east Asia and set up a caliphate - It’s a fantasy. But it is not such a fantasy for them to think and to work at setting up a wilayat in South-east Asia, a province and authority, a place somewhere in South-east Asia which is ISIS territory, just like they have territory in Syria and Iraq.
"Because South-east Asia is a big place and there are areas where the government writ does not run as strongly, and in such a place ISIS can take root, and establish a base and that will create serious problems for all of us," he said at the second session of the two-day summit hosted by US President Barack Obama.
PM Lee went on to suggest two ways to tackle the ISIS threat in the region - strengthen international cooperation and counter the spread of extreme exclusivist ideologies.
"A terrorist does not know any borders," he said, while stressing the need for cooperation.
"Theirs is a multi-national endeavour, so too must our anti-terrorist cooperation go beyond borders. That is why Singapore readily participated in the counter-ISIS coalition."
He added: "The ultimate aim of terrorism is to make a sharp and violent divide between “us” and “them”. But if we strengthen our cooperation, if we band together to counter their ideology and take a firm united stand, I am confident that they will not prevail, and eventually, we will defeat terrorism."
At the session on transnational challenges on Tuesday, PM Lee also talked about the threat of climate change and urged countries to follow through on the commitments set in Paris last year.
"It is not easy to do. Difficult decisions were taken in Paris and they will be tough to follow through. Even in the US, there is pushback from certain parts within the political system," he said.
At the UN Climate Change Conference last November, countries set a target of limiting global warming to less than 2 deg C.
Mr Lee added that the US leadership was critical to get the deal implemented and urged the administration to make a case to climate change sceptics in the country.
"Without US leadership, no other country will reach a deal, much less implement an agreement. But if we do and implement the agreement, then we can ensure the sustainability of our environment and make the world a better place for our children."
Correction note: An earlier version of this article stated the target set at the UN Climate Change Conference last November was to limit global warming to less than 2 deg C a year. The target was actually by year 2100.