Saturday 15 November 2014

Tackle roots of extremism to counter ISIS, says PM Lee at East Asia Summit 2014

Singapore plans meet on deradicalisation as military response is not enough
By Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Naypyitaw, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2014

THE response to the threat of militant group ISIS cannot be purely military, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a meeting of the East Asia Summit (EAS), where he joined other leaders in noting that the situation in Iraq and Syria was complex and there were no simple solutions.

It was still necessary to fight, contain and weaken ISIS, but countries also had to tackle the ideological roots of extremism - the reason why ISIS has been able to attract foreign fighters from faraway regions, including South- east Asia, he added.

At least 350 South-east Asians have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside radicals there.

Mr Lee said Singapore proposed to conduct an EAS symposium on deradicalisation of extremists to share best practices among experts.

"We have a little bit of experience on this because we have been working on detainees who we picked up after Sept 11, 2001, who were connected to Al-Qaeda and who were planning several terrorist attacks in Singapore," he said.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told The Straits Times that the conference, to be called the EAS Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration, would be held next April.

It will be organised by the school and supported by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of local Muslim scholars who have been countering detainees' misunderstanding of religious concepts, as well as by the Government.

Singapore's approach to dealing with over 60 Jemaah Islamiah members and other radicals detained over the years has involved psychological as well as religious rehabilitation by the RRG, and seen over two-thirds of those held released and reintegrated into the community.

Mr Lee told Singapore media: "We can share our experiences, and other countries can also come and talk about how they have tried to do it and we hope that way, we can gain from the exchange."

The effort complements Singapore's contribution to a multinational coalition to combat ISIS and fits into the 18-member EAS' overall aim of strengthening peace in the Asia-Pacific.

Last week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament that Singapore would join the 33-nation United States-led effort by contributing liaison and planning officers, a KC-135R tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling and an imagery analysis team.

Yesterday, leaders from ASEAN and the EAS issued strong statements on extremism. The ASEAN Summit chairman's statement issued by Myanmar said: "These groups not only pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, but also to all countries in the Middle East, and if left unchecked, to the rest of the world."

Mr Lee noted: "The fact that Malaysia and Indonesia are predominantly Muslim countries gives further credibility and weight to the statement."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters his country was also committed to fighting ISIS, but said he put greater emphasis on a softer approach.

Beyond extremism, leaders also pledged to work together on Ebola, climate change and ensuring the stability of the wider region.

Mr Lee also thanked Myanmar President Thein Sein for his "able chairmanship" of ASEAN and said he looked forward to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his team chairing ASEAN next year.

Singapore well-placed to host symposium on terror threat: Expert
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2014

SINGAPORE is well-placed to host a symposium on de-radicalisation, given its experience in rehabilitating and reintegrating extremists into society, terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said yesterday.

This symposium, planned for April next year, will look at how countries can counter the influence of groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in ways other than by military action, he told The Straits Times.

"The world has focused largely on fighting terrorism using force ... This is the strength of the Western nations," he said. "But the strength of Singapore and the strength of Asia is engagement."

Although laws and military action are ways to curb the growing terrorist threat, community engagement is the most enduring approach, he said.

This makes it necessary for governments to work with organisations such as religious groups to tackle the root cause of the pro-blem: radical ideology.

"The threat of terrorism has achieved a new dimension and scale," he said. "There is a new global threat landscape that is emerging, and governments must work in partnership with community organisations, religious organisations, educational organisations and the media to respond to this threat."

Dr Gunaratna, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), spoke after a conference in Singapore on crisis management organised by insurance firm AXA and the French Embassy. At the conference, he talked about ISIS' rise.

About 300 delegates from around the world are expected to attend the symposium scheduled for April 16 and 17.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the event during talks at the Asean Summit in Myanmar yesterday.

The gathering will be organised by the RSIS and supported by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs ministries. Foreigners have gone in droves to fight in Iraq and Syria, Dr Gunaratna said. And those who return must be helped to rejoin society.

RRG can share its experience in counselling those swayed by radical ideology, as well as helping those already led astray re-enter society, at the symposium, which will focus on achieving these twin goals, he said. RRG, a group of Islamic scholars, was set up to counsel those influenced by radical misinterpretations of the faith.

Host of benefits for Singapore with Asean Community: PM
These include opportunities for trade, greater access overseas for firms
By Lim Yan Liang In Naypyitaw, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2014

THERE will be myriad benefits for Singapore when Asean member countries launch a more economically integrated Asean Community at the end of next year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said here last night.

These include more opportunities for trade and greater access overseas for Singaporean companies, he told the Singapore media at the end of the Asean Summit.

But 2015 is not the end of Asean's work, Mr Lee said, calling the Asean Community a milestone on a longer journey.

Establishing the community - which includes targets for greater economic integration and freer movement of goods and capital - is a goal members must focus on achieving over the next year.

"It will open up more opportunities for investments, for trade, exports for our companies, better access for our companies in other Asean countries, and also better connectivity: air links, and therefore more convenient transportation," he said.

Progress on achieving these goals shows members have met about 80 per cent of targets. The remaining 20 per cent involve more complex issues like non-tariff barriers and liberalisation of services industries. These may be difficult to achieve but they are worthwhile, said Mr Lee who, at the start of the summit, said members should continue to seek ways to keep their economies relevant and competitive.

"The point of the next one year is to focus on these remaining pieces and get as much of it done as possible," he said. "But December 2015 is not the end of Asean's objectives - it's a milestone. We should get as much of it (done) as we can, and beyond that, we are working on a further agenda to take Asean a next step forward."

Malaysia, as the new Asean chair, will set up a taskforce of top officials from member countries "to define this next goal for Asean", he said.

At the summit, Mr Lee repeatedly highlighted the importance of Asean centrality - having the grouping in control of key decisions affecting the region - and said this was necessary to effectively handle major tasks.

On whether Asean could maintain this position, he said: "Centrality is not something which you can declare and claim. It's something which you have to earn from your relevance, from your effectiveness, from your cohesiveness. The more Asean can play that role, the more other countries find us useful, the more we can say that Asean centrality is a reality."

Part of the reason for the region's growth and prosperity is the United States' longstanding regional presence, Mr Lee said at a session between Asean and the US, where he thanked President Barack Obama for keeping Asean at the forefront of US policy.

But Mr Lee said the Asean-US relationship will face challenges ahead and both sides must consider how to address them together.

At a separate Asean-China meeting, he said both sides prized regional peace and stability. This hinged on positive ties among powers like the US and China, and peaceful and mature management of difficult issues like the South China Sea. He noted China's commitment to deepening regional and economic integration and strengthening existing open and inclusive regional architecture.

Mr Lee also acknowledged there will always be urgent issues and domestic priorities to distract leaders from the idea of regional economic integration, but said inaction will cause countries to be less competitive and relevant.

Singapore regards it as important "because we are small, and so having the whole of Asean come together is important to us"

Asean looks at ways to stay in charge of its future
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Naypyitaw, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2014

THE leaders of all 10 South-east Asian nations yesterday agreed that more needed to be done to ensure the grouping remained in charge of the region's destiny in the years ahead, amid the growing menace of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and the latent tensions from the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The leaders also pledged their support to build a tighter-knit Asean Community, with freer flow of goods and people by the end of next year.

They decided to set up a high-level task force to chart a post-2015 road map, strengthen the Jakarta-based Asean secretariat, and adopt a common position on global concerns such as terrorism and climate change.

The moves will ensure that Asean, and not outside powers, remains in control of its future.

Asean's unity - achieved through seeking consensus on key political decisions - had ensured peace and growth in the region, Myanmar President Thein Sein said while opening the summit.

But challenges such as natural disasters, the Ebola pandemic and extremism remained and it was important to strengthen Asean's ability to overcome these, he said.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Asean had to constantly look for ways to strengthen its capacity.

PM Lee and other leaders noted that the potential for miscalculations remained in the South China Sea despite the recent lowering of tensions. Mr Lee said it was good that both Asean and China had agreed to work towards "early conclusion" of a Code of Conduct, and "early harvest" measures such as hotlines to tackle flare-ups.

Officials should work with China to finalise these moves in the coming year, he added.

He also said Asean had to intensify counter-terrorism cooperation to deal with ISIS.

"To effectively handle the major tasks ahead, we must stay united and maintain Asean centrality in the region," he said.

Leaders agree on moves to strengthen Asean bureaucracy
Improvements like better technology use will help support work of group
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Naypyitaw, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2014

APART from biannual leaders' summits, Asean ministers and hundreds of officials shuttle from one capital to another for regular meetings on a range of issues, from education to trade.

And as the pace of the grouping's work has picked up in the run-up to the formation of an Asean Community by next year, the pace of travel has grown, with several hundred meetings a year.

Some of this will soon change, now that Asean leaders have accepted the recommendations of a task force on strengthening the Asean bureaucracy - a critical but often under-the-radar engine that keeps the regional grouping going as it approaches a key milestone in its development, and is seen as key to preserving Asean centrality in the years ahead.

These improvements will see better use of technologies such as video-conferencing facilities across member states which will help reduce the number of physical meetings, as well as better salaries and customised training for officials at the Asean Secretariat (ASEC) based in Jakarta. 

Welcoming these steps, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his counterparts at the Asean Summit: "ASEC plays a critical function in supporting our community-building efforts."

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters after the summit that these measures will also "make Asean a more effective organisation".

"Asean's goals now are much more ambitious compared to when we started," he noted.

But member states are not letting up on reforms, and have started a high-level task force to chart a post-2015 vision as Asean further strengthens its imprint in member states.

Myanmar President Thein Sein offered several suggestions, saying Asean had to enhance the efficiency of its institutions and ensure effective decision-making as well as the capacity to evaluate and follow up on its programmes. 

It should also ensure that policies safeguard the rights of women, children and the elderly.

Such improvements would ensure the Asean Community remained relevant to people in Asean as well as responsive to a changing regional and global situation, he added.

On Tuesday night, Asean launched a communication master plan titled Asean: A Community Of Opportunities, for how all 10 members can spread the message on the group's work to its citizens, ahead of the formation of an Asean Community that will permit freer flow of goods and people by next year-end, and Asean's 50th anniversary in 2017.

Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh said it was important to get across to citizens of Asean member states how Asean integration would benefit them - including by creating greater opportunities to work, travel and trade.

Several leaders at the summit acknowledged there had to be steps to address concerns among some of their citizens that Asean integration could disadvantage them, and lead to greater competition for jobs and resources. 

They included Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who told his counterparts at his first summit that Indonesia would not allow itself to just be a market, even as he reiterated his commitment to continuing closer Asean cooperation.

His country had to be a key part of the regional and global production chain, he added.

Likewise, while Indonesia was open for business, like every sovereign country, it had to ensure its national interests were not disadvantaged, he said. "We need to uphold the principle of reciprocity, mutual respect, mutual benefit and fair competition even as we cooperate."

Mr Joko added that it would be near-impossible for Asean to maintain its centrality if it did not have the capacity, or the credibility and unity.

Today, Asean leaders will attend the East Asia Summit with eight key partners and have separate summits with United States President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Call for greater efforts to meet economic targets
By Lim Yan Liang In Naypyitaw, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2014

ASEAN members should double their efforts to meet targets for the Asean Economic Community which is to be set up by the end of next year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said to fellow Asean leaders.

Ultimately, an economically strong and integrated Asean will be better placed to improve its citizens' lives and deal with regional and global challenges.

"An Asean that is economically integrated, strong and united can better attract investments, create jobs, manage regional challenges, as well as be an effective platform to engage larger powers," he said.

Speaking at meetings on the opening day of the Asean Summit, he urged members to continue seeking ways to keep their economies relevant and competitive.

Apart from the Asean Community - which includes the economic community and its goals of economic integration and freer movement of goods and capital - they should also work to fully implement the Asean open skies agreement by the end of next year.

The agreement, allowing for more frequent flights between Asean cities, will facilitate trade, investment and tourism flows across South-east Asia.

He welcomed the development of non-binding public-private partnership principles to help countries work with the private sector for infrastructure projects of different sizes.

To date, Asean members have completed about 80 per cent of targets set in the Asean Economic Community Blueprint. But PM Lee said the remaining 20 per cent would be the most challenging.

Members should focus on sustainable growth, which has gained prominence amid changing climate patterns in recent years.

He also welcomed Jakarta's ratification of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and President Joko Widodo's public comments on dealing with forest fires in Indonesia.

Mr Lee encouraged members to support regional mechanisms such as the Asean Haze Monitoring System, which Singapore developed, to fight haze.

He welcomed Myanmar's setting up of an Asean Institute for Green Economy - launched yesterday - which will look at sustainable development issues.

Mr K. Shanmugam, Singa- pore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, told reporters Asean members should also look at how to increase intra-Asean trade - which currently accounts for less than a quarter of Asean's total trade value. Most members do three to four times as much trade outside the grouping.

"Really, as an Asean Community, what does it mean for our people? It must increase trade. It must increase the economic relationship," he said. "If you look at the European Union, at other communities, intra-community trade is significant. Ours is only 20 per cent so we need to increase that."

At meetings yesterday between Asean and India, Japan and Australia, expanding trade ties also figured prominently in Mr Lee's remarks. He spoke about intensifying efforts to complete the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the three countries.

The RCEP is a free trade pact involving the 10 Asean members, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

At the Asean-India meeting, Mr Lee urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to start negotiations on an Asean-India open skies agreement, which he called the "missing component" to the current partnership.

He also asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to press ahead with completing the Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which aims to double the flow of goods, services and investments between Asean and Japan by 2022.

And at a meeting to mark 40 years of Asean-Australia ties, Mr Lee said to Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott and fellow leaders that there was room for greater investment flows between Asean and Australia.

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