ASEAN and Australia should work closer together on cybersecurity issues, which range from Internet crimes to fake news, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday.
In a speech to other Asean leaders and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a plenary session at the Asean-Australia Special Summit, he noted that cybercrime is a trans-boundary problem that is difficult to police.
"It can have a drastic impact on our populations, for example in terms of critical infrastructure, and it can be insidious - undermining the trust which holds our societies together, for example through fake news," he said.
The world is getting more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats, not less, he added, and so it is essential for governments to develop new rules and norms to cope with the challenge.
There is also potential for this region to play a role in the international discourse on cybersecurity, Mr Lee said, noting that a proposed Asean-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue can be a platform for greater policy exchange and capacity-building.
Another promising area for strategic cooperation is in developing smart cities, he said.
A new Asean-Australia Smart Cities Initiative, announced by Mr Turnbull last Saturday, complements the Asean Smart Cities Network initiative and Asean's Masterplan on Asean Connectivity 2025, added Mr Lee.
"We look forward to working with Australia and its businesses to promote urban development and innovation throughout the region."
Mr Lee also reiterated how important it was for the region to redouble its resolve to pursue trade liberalisation and regional economic integration.
"This is especially crucial as global mood is shifting against international trade and globalisation. The US has imposed tariffs on solar panels, aluminium and steel, and is contemplating further, more dramatic measures," he said.
"These steps could easily lead to tit for tat responses and a trade war. This will be very harmful to Asean economies, as well as Australia's, because we are all highly dependent on international trade."
The next step to take, Mr Lee said, is to work on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact involving Asean, China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea.
"We should intensify our efforts to conclude a forward-looking and mutually-beneficial agreement. One which includes all the major players in the Asian region and which will match and support our goal of an open and inclusive regional architecture," he added.
"We hope to conclude such an RCEP by this year which will be possible provided all the RCEP members, Asean, Australia, as well as the rest, put in their best efforts."
In his opening remarks at the plenary session, Mr Turnbull said Australia was committed to backing Asean as the "strategic convener of the region".
"Over the past 50 years, Asean has used its influence to defuse tension, build peace, encourage economic cooperation and support to maintain the rule of law."
Referencing the late Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Turnbull added: "To quote your chairman's father, we want to have a region where the big fish do not eat the little fish and the little fish the shrimps. We want a region where everybody, regardless of their size, is respected in their sovereignty and their ability to determine their own course."