ASEAN to Strike a Deal with Russia

ASEAN foreign ministers are set to seal a deal with Russia over cybersecurity issues.

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Southeast Asian nations are aiming to seal a cybersecurity deal soon with Russia, which the United States has repeatedly accused of election meddling, following a string of high profile hacks in the region, according to a draft of a document.

The aforementioned document talks about formalizing an agreement with Russia.  It is set to be issued by the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the end 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 reaffirmed ASEAN’s goal to sign an ambitious trade pact backed by China.

“We welcome the further strengthening of 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,” stated on the draft document.

The document is scheduled to be published on Saturday and the title would be updated based on the negotiations, the document explained.

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Singapore, which is the host of the ASEAN meeting, experienced its worst cyberattack when hackers stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people from a government health database in July.  The stolen data include those about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Malaysia stated earlier this year that it had intercepted an attempted cyber heist on its central bank.

Neither Singapore nor Malaysia has identified the hackers and neither hinted a suspicion on the involvement of Russia, which appointed a dedicated ambassador to ASEAN based in Jakarta last year.

US intelligence agencies have claimed that a Russian propaganda arm attempted to meddle with the 2016 presidential election by posting and buying ads on Facebook.  The Kremlin has already denied involvement.

Facebook stated on Tuesday that it had identified a new coordinated political influence campaign to confuse its users and perpetuate dissension among voters prior to November’s US congressional elections.

The statement also referred to a first draft to start negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China sea, which has been at the center of overlapping claims by China and other Southeast Asian nations.

According to the statement, 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 reaped.

On the flip side, critics have suggested that the emphasis on reaching an agreement for the code of conduct works in China’s favor, since it could be used as a delaying tactic to ease criticisms of the militarization of man-made islands in the region.

The statement comes in light of protectionist trade policies in the United States.  It also emphasized the commitment of ASEAN member to reach a major trade deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP.

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

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