East Asia Summit: Terrorist groups, South China Sea

  • 22/11/2015
Prime Minister John Key arrives at the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia (AAP)
Prime Minister John Key arrives at the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia (AAP)

By Sarah Robson

The threat posed by terrorist groups like Islamic State will be among the issues occupying the minds of leaders at this year's East Asia Summit.

Prime Minister John Key is in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, where he's joining 17 other leaders from the East Asia region and beyond - including US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - for the annual talks.

Regional security issues are the major focus and in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris, there's heightened concern around the risk posed by IS and foreign fighters returning from the Middle East to countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.

"I think that is the big risk for all of us, ultimately - returning foreign fighters," Mr Key told reporters.

There have been terrorist groups operating in Indonesia for a long period of time.

While things have been relatively calm since the 2002 Bali bombings, Mr Key is worried about the potential for that situation to change, because Indonesia and the wider South-East Asia region is a place many Kiwis travel to.

That was also part of the Government's argument for sending around 100 defence force personnel to Iraq to help train local soldiers as they against IS.

The other major talking point is expected to be the South China Sea.

Tensions over the waterway, which is a crucial passage for trade, are threatening to come to a head as China continues to reclaim land in some of the disputed waters.

New Zealand isn't taking sides, but Mr Key will be emphasising the need for a peaceful solution. "It's really important for stability in the region," he said.

It's also hoped progress will be made on the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free trade deal - similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership - involving the likes of India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

While in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Key has held formal one-on-one talks with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A planned bilateral meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn't go ahead, but Mr Key could still catch up with him informally or later this month at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta.