Southeast Asia has become a fertile ground for terrorism, and it is not impossible for followers of Islamic State to work at setting up a ‘wilayat’ (power, authority or a right of certain kind) in the region, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
And that’s because Southeast Asia is a big place, and there are areas where government writ does not run as strongly. In such places, ISIS can take root and establish a base, which would create serious problems.
“They think, or some of their followers think, that they can overturn governments in Southeast 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 Southeast Asia, a province and authority, a place somewhere in Southeast Asia which is ISIS territory – just like they have territory in Syria and Iraq,” said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee was speaking at a closed-door retreat on the second day of a special US-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands, California, on Tuesday (Feb 16).
Noting that terrorism affects everyone, Mr Lee pointed to the need to strengthen international cooperation.
“A terrorist does not know any borders. Theirs is a multi-national endeavour, so too must our anti-terrorist cooperation go beyond borders,” he said, adding that Singapore has readily participated in the counter-ISIS coalition.
The spread of extreme, exclusivist ideologies must also be countered, said Mr Lee, noting that Singapore works closely with religious and community leaders to reach out to wider society – so that collectively, a firm stand will be taken against exclusivist ideas.
“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,” he said.
Besides terrorism, climate change was another issue discussed at the retreat – which focused on protecting peace, prosperity and security in the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Lee said he hoped the US will continue to play a leadership role on climate change, as President Barack Obama has done.
“Because US leadership in this, and in many other matters, is critical. Without US leadership, no other country will reach a deal, much less implement an agreement,” he said.
He added that he hoped all countries will effectively follow through on the Paris Climate Agreement.