Southeast Asian foreign ministers opened informal talks Tuesday in Singapore to discuss plans to build a network of smart cities across the region and bolster cooperation to fight terrorism and transnational crime.

It marks the ministers' first meeting this year under Singapore's chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the annual retreat will focus on charting the way forward for the 51-year-old grouping based on Singapore's chosen theme of "resilience and innovation." Ministers will also discuss Singapore's proposal to develop ASEAN smart cities that will leverage technology to improve people's livelihood, he said.

"We need to enhance our collective resilience against common threats, trans-boundary threats like terrorism, transnational crime and cybercrimes," he said in his opening statement.

"We want to establish an ASEAN smart cities network in order to expand opportunities for our people and our small and medium-size local enterprises in the midst of a digital revolution. We want to ensure that all of us continue to invest in our infrastructure and our people, enhance our connectivity and ultimately to secure peace and prosperity" in the region, he added.

ASEAN was set up in 1967 as an anti-communist bulwark but attention has since shifted in the last two decades toward economic integration.

Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement that the ministers will also exchange views on regional and international developments. No details were given but issues such as the South China Sea territorial disputes and the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar that sparked a mass exodus were key concerns in previous meetings.