MANILA: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned on Friday that Southeast Asian countries needed to ensure their economic growth was inclusive, or risk marginalized people turning to violent extremism or even overturning political systems.
“We know that those who see no hope in their own societies are more prone to the siren calls of terrorists who can exploit their vulnerability and fill them with their lies,” Najib told an entrepreneurship event during the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila.
Extremism is expected to be on the agenda, with fears for Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines about piracy, the rising threat of Daesh and the ease in which militants can acquire weapons and move between countries.
But the first order of the summit addressed a more pressing threat, as ASEAN called for calm from all involved in tensions on the Korean peninsula.
US President Donald Trump in an interview with Reuters said a “major, major conflict” was possible with North Korea over its missile programs and China said the situation could slip out of control.
In a rare, stand-alone statement, ASEAN urged North Korea and all parties concerned “to exercise self-restraint in order to de-escalate the tension and refrain from actions that may aggravate the situation.”
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said all countries were worried.
“The Korean peninsula is not that far from Southeast Asia. So whatever happens in the Korean peninsula, for sure it will affect us,” she said.
Dangers of disparity
ASEAN has 10 members: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Malaysian leader also warned that economic disparity could be politically destabilizing.
“The neglected underclass of those who felt left behind by economic growth, prosperity and globalization can overturn elections and political systems,” he said.
Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo echoed Najib’s call for leaders to pay more attention to their poor.
“The voiceless and the powerless are now raring to be heard. Their frustrations are being felt on a global scale,” she said in a speech.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will chair meetings of the ASEAN leaders on Saturday. He made it clear on Thursday that Beijing’s contentious activities in the South China Sea would not be discussed, because it would achieve nothing.
Indonesia’s Marsudi said the South China Sea issue was discussed among her counterparts but the focus was on completing guidelines for negotiating an ASEAN-China maritime code of conduct. Critics are skeptical and say China is trying to buy time.
ASEAN “appreciates very much” China’s cooperation, Marsudi said, and was aiming to finish the framework in a few months.
“The message of ASEAN is, the sooner the better,” she said.