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ASEAN summit kicks off with security focus

Expected to discuss economic integration, Malaysia's prime minister opened the ASEAN summit by urging nations to combat terrorism. Maritime issues were also hinted at, with Obama calling on disputes to be "resolved."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak opened the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on Saturday by calling on world leaders to combat Islamic terrorism, after a week of deadly attacks in Europe and Africa.

"The perpetrators of these cowardly and barbaric acts do not represent any race, religion or creed, nor should we allow them to claim to do so," Najib said, commenting on terrorist attacks in Mali and Paris, which combined left more than 150 people dead.

While noting that he had initially planned to open the summit with a speech on economic integration, the prime minister said the past week's events "cast a shadow over us all."

Najib added that Muslim-majority countries, such as Malaysia, had a duty to expose the lies of an "ideology propagated by these extremists that is the cause of this sadistic violence."

"They are terrorists and should be confronted as such, with the full force of the law," Najib noted.

South China Sea tensions

China's overlapping claims with Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea have been a controversial subject among the organization's member states.

China has been accused of constructing artificial islands to extend its military might in the South China Sea.

However, a draft of the summit chairman's statement by host Malaysia makes no apparent reference to the dispute, according to Reuters news agency.

"We call on all parties to exercise self-restraint, and avoid actions that would complicate or escalate tensions," Najib said.

Watch video 01:11

ASEAN leaders meet in Kuala Lumpur

Resolving issues?

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama, an invitee to the summit, said that the disputes needed to be "resolved."

"We believe economic disputes should be resolved by dialogue, not by bullying or coercion," Obama said during his speech on trade and economic integration.

"The United States is working…to uphold the freedom of navigation and ensure disputes in the region are resolved peacefully," Obama added, without making reference to a country or its leaders.

US naval vessels have entered waters claimed by Beijing, prompting fears of escalation between two of the globe's largest economies.

The summit is also expected to finalize conditions for the ASEAN Economic Community, which would witness the removal of tariff barriers and some visa restrictions. The plan is expected to come into force by the end of the year.

ls/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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