Shangri-La Dialogue

Asia ‘must unite’ against terrorism in region

Southeast Asian delegates at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore call for more cooperation against growing menace of Islamic State in the region

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2017, 11:29pm

Southeast Asian delegates at a ­regional security forum in ­Singapore called for more ­cooperation among Asia-Pacific countries in fighting terrorism.

Countries from the Asean bloc that attended the Asian Security Forum, which wrapped up ­on Sunday, also said they planned to use spy planes and drones to stem the movement of militants across their porous borders, as concerns rise over the growing clout of Islamic State in the region.

“Our open borders are being exploited by terrorist groups to facilitate [the transfer of] personnel and materials,” Le Luong Minh, the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said at the summit, which is also known as the ­Shangri-La Dialogue.

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Defence officials from ­Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on greater regional ­cooperation against the threat of terrorism, as well as against piracy in the Sulu Sea in the southwestern Philippines.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, with the assistance of Singapore, have been conducting joint maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea since last year after a series of kidnappings by the pro-Islamic State Abu Sayyaf group.

Colonel Liu Lin, a Chinese ­delegate at the forum, said that since the Sulu Sea did not feature in any of the region’s territorial disputes, Beijing would be willing to help its Asian neighbours ­counter terrorism there.

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“China is engaged in anti-piracy cooperation with the Asean countries, and terrorism is also the common enemy of China and the Asean countries,” Liu said.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis did not mention a specific anti-terrorism plan at the ­summit, although he said the United States remained committed to the security of the region.

“What featured quite strongly in the US-Asean meeting was the pledge by both US and Asean members that we stand ready to help the Philippines ... whether it’s information, intelligence or ­otherwise,” Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.

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However, one analyst had doubts about the US commitment in Asia. “There are so many uncertainties under [US President Donald Trump], with Trump, Mattis and even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson making ­different remarks about Washington’s global security strategy,” ­Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a defence analyst from the Observer ­Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi, said.

“In such circumstances, Asean members have realised the ­urgency of cooperation in anti-terrorism,” she said, adding that China could also play a role in such a ­regional coalition.

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For this year’s Shangri-La ­Dialogue, China sent delegates from the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, lead by Lieutenant General He Lei.

Although these delegates had a lower rank than the full generals China had sent to the forum in years past, they appear to have been well received.

“[They were] more presentable and professional than their senior colleagues,” Andrei Chang, the founder of military magazine Kanwa Asian Defence, said.

Chang said the Chinese delegation made logical and convincing presentations in fluent English, and that the military academics used terminology that their Western counterparts could understand.

Additional reporting by Reuters