ASEAN needs to deepen cooperation on terrorism, haze: PM Lee

“The South China Sea has become a test of ASEAN unity and effectiveness,” added PM Lee Hsien Loong, who urged faster progress on a binding Code of Conduct in the territory.
Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 21 Nov 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Terrorism, transboundary haze and the South China Sea dispute are three salient issues currently facing ASEAN, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking at the opening session of the 27th ASEAN Summit, Mr Lee said the recent terror attacks in Paris, Ankara and Mali are a reminder that the terrorist threat is serious and around us.

He also noted that Southeast Asia is a key recruiting ground for the Islamic State – and that there even being enough foreign fighters from the region to form a battalion of Southeast Asian fighters as part of the group. The militant group is also preparing publicity material in Bahasa to try and recruit more fighters from the region.

In Singapore, Mr Lee said close to a dozen people are known to have wanted to go to Syria to fight – with some succeeding, but with others detected and stopped in time.

“We should enhance cooperation and information sharing among our security and intelligence agencies and continue to share best practices on countering the terrorists’ ideology," said Mr Lee, noting that one example of this was when Singapore hosted an EAS Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration.

On transboundary haze, Mr Lee said the perennial issue has been especially severe this year, with it affecting six ASEAN member states – including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines.

Mr Lee added that he is grateful that all ASEAN Member States have shown resolve to address the issue expeditiously.

“It is vital that we deepen cooperation and share information to bring errant companies to account for their irresponsible and unsustainable practices that are the root cause of land and forest fires causing haze pollution,” said Mr Lee.

"Therefore, we must urgently operationalise the ASEAN Sub Regional Haze Monitoring System.”

As for the ongoing South China Sea terroritorial dispute – Mr Lee said it is an important issue for claimant and non-claimant states, as any miscalculations at sea could escalate into conflicts that threaten regional peace and stability.

China and several other Southeast Asian states have laid claims on the territory. Singapore is a non-claimant state.

“The South China Sea has become a test of ASEAN unity and effectiveness,” said Mr Lee, who urged faster progress on a binding Code of Conduct in the territory.

“We must continue to urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from provocative actions or the use of force, and commit to accident prevention measures and the non-militarisation of land features in the SCS.”

Mr Lee also said Singapore will be a “transparent and objective coordinator” for ASEAN-China Dialogue relations – a role it has assumed in August.

The ASEAN Summit comes ahead of the ASEAN Community being established at the end of the year.

It will spell deeper integration in the region – a single market production base, with free movement of goods, services and skilled labour.

Mr Lee said while this establishment is a significant milstone in ASEAN’s history, there is still work to be done.

This includes implementing the remaining 20 per cent of action lines in the existing ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint, including those related to services liberalisation.

It also includes ratifying the ASEAN Open Skies agreement and concluding a high quality Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership.

Mr Lee said that as the 10-member grouping becomes more integrated – the bloc is bound to have to tackle some difficulties in their relationships.

“How we will deal with them will define the ASEAN Community,” said Mr Lee.

- CNA/av

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