Singapore, US pledge to boost cooperation in anti-terror fight

Move comes ahead of global summit on countering violent extremism

Singapore and the United States have pledged to step up anti-terrorism cooperation, ahead of an inaugural global summit to be organised by the White House on countering violent extremism.

The move was one of the key outcomes of the third US-Singapore Strategic Partnership Dialogue held in the US capital last Friday.

A joint statement said that the dialogue's co-chairs, Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong and US top diplomat for Asia Daniel Russel, noted a "mutual desire to work to counter violent extremism in all its forms, having partnered together on the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL". ISIL is another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, or ISIS.

The statement added that both countries "will continue to work with the United Nations and other partners to address the challenges posed by violent extremism and foreign terrorist fighters".

The expression of solidarity comes as the US gears up to host a global summit on Wednesday.

The summit was unveiled last September amid growing concerns about the ISIS threat. Since then, the flow of foreign fighters heading to join ISIS has spiked, as has the threat of lone wolf attacks by self-radicalised individuals or returning fighters.

Last week, a US intelligence official estimated that about 20,000 foreign fighters have gone to Iraq and Syria. The figure emerged at around the same time that Australian police arrested two men in an apparent ISIS-linked plot to publicly kill or maim someone.

At the summit, the US will highlight some practices that have worked in countering self-radicalisation in cities such as Boston and Los Angeles. Also expected are presentations by other nations and panel discussions on themes such as community engagement, religious leader engagement and the role of the private sector.

The battle against ISIS has become an increasingly urgent topic in bilateral meetings between the US and Singapore. It was on the agenda when US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar visited Singapore last month.

He told reporters recently: "Singapore has an important role to play... by the fact that you are respected by so many countries around the world. By the mere fact that Singapore is participating in the coalition speaks volumes and encourages others as well."

Last Friday's dialogue also saw both sides reaffirming close ties in other areas, including trade, security and disputes in the South China Sea.

The dialogues are meant to give the two countries an annual, institutionalised process to engage in high-level talks on a broad range of issues.

At the first dialogue in 2012, they agreed to look into setting up joint technical assistance programmes for developing states. To date, these have trained more than 400 officials from South-east Asia.

On the South China Sea disputes, both sides reiterated calls for all parties to exercise self-restraint and "emphasised the importance for all countries in the region to resolve their disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law".