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ASEAN Members Discuss US-China Trade Dispute

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a press conference to mark the end of the 32nd ASEAN Summit, April 28, 2018, in Singapore.

The prime minister of Singapore said Saturday that a trade dispute between the United States and China was one of the most pressing problems for Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made his remarks in a statement at the conclusion of a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations held in the city-state.

"We are deeply concerned over the rising tide of protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments," he said.

The government of U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose heavy tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States, saying the Chinese goods place an undue burden on U.S. manufacturers to compete with their low prices. Beijing has responded with its own threats to raise tariffs on its imports of U.S. goods.

ASEAN leaders take a group photo ahead of the opening ceremony of the 32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, April 28, 2018.
ASEAN leaders take a group photo ahead of the opening ceremony of the 32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, April 28, 2018.

Other issues discussed at the summit included terrorism, technological sabotage, the Islamic State terror group, the warming relationship between North and South Korea, and human rights issues in Myanmar, where a flood of ethnic Rohingya people have crossed the border into Bangladesh to avoid violence.

At the opening of the summit, Lee said the Islamic State still posed "very real" threats to the ASEAN region, despite the group's defeat in the Middle East.

"Southeast Asia is at peace," he said, "but these threats are very real."

The prime minister warned that the region's embrace of technology also made it especially vulnerable.

"We need to be resilient to both conventional threats and also nonconventional threats, such as terrorism and cyberattacks," the prime minister said.

Lee also welcomed the easing of tensions between the two Koreas: "It's a positive step. It's better than firing missiles and testing bombs."

On another matter, Lee said the summit participants agreed to encourage Myanmar and Bangladesh to return refugees to their homes "in a safe, secure and dignified way, without undue delay."

ASEAN is a regional group that promotes economic, political and security cooperation among its 10 members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.