Southeast Asia seeks Russia cybersecurity pact, S.China Sea code of conduct

August 2, 2018 - 3:08 PM
ASEAN foreign ministers take their positions during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting opening ceremony in Singapore August 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE/MANILA-  Southeast Asian nations hope to strike a cybersecurity agreement soon with Russia, which the United States has accused of election meddling, after a series of high-profile hacks in the region, according to a draft document seen on Thursday.

The draft of the document seen by Reuters discusses formalizing an agreement with Russia. It is set to be issued by foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the close of meetings underway with other global lawmakers in Singapore.

The statement also showed that a first draft had been agreed in negotiations on a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea and reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to an ambitious trade pact backed by China.

“We welcome the further strengthening our cooperation in cybersecurity with Russia through the issuance of the statement of ASEAN and Russian foreign ministers on cooperation in the field of cybersecurity,” the draft document said.

The statement is due to be published on Saturday and the title would be updated depending on negotiations, it said.

Singapore, the host of the ASEAN meeting, suffered its worst cyberattack when hackers stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, from a government health database in July.

Malaysia said earlier this year it had foiled an attempted cyber heist on its central bank.

Neither country has identified the hackers and neither suggested the involvement of Russia, which appointed a dedicated ambassador to ASEAN based in Jakarta last year.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said a Russian propaganda arm tried to tamper with the 2016 presidential election by posting and buying ads on Facebook. Moscow has denied involvement.

Facebook said on Tuesday it had identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to mislead its users and sow dissension among voters ahead of November’s U.S. congressional elections.


The statement also referred to a first draft to begin negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where China and Southeast Asian nations have overlapping claims to islands.

It said the draft was reached at a meeting in central China’s Changsha in June. The draft will form the basis of likely protracted further discussions before a final version is reached.

Critics have said the emphasis on reaching a consensus for the code of conduct works in China’s favour as a delaying tactic to ease criticism of its militarisation of man-made islands in the disputed region.

The statement, set against a backdrop of protectionist trade policies from United States, also reiterated the commitment of ASEAN members to finalize a major trade pact backed by China called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“We reiterated the priority placed by ASEAN on the RCEP as a centrepiece of its external economic relations, particularly at a time of growing uncertainties in global trade,” it said.

Singapore’s prime minister said on Thursday the deal would create the world’s largest trading bloc, covering a third of the global economy.

ASEAN also urged steps for “the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean peninsular, saying that it welcomed the agreement struck between the United States and North Korea at a landmark summit in Singapore in June.

The United States, which is due to meet ASEAN leaders on Friday, has said it will press Southeast Asia to maintain sanctions on Pyongyang.

That follows reports of renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the isolated country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. -Reporting by John Geddie, Christian Shepherd and Jack Kim in Singapore and Manuel Mogato in Manila, Editing by Neil Fullick and Paul Tait