Asean needs to be strong and united in dealing with N. Korea: PM Lee

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders link arms during the opening ceremony of the 30th Asean Summit in Manila, Philippines on April 29, 2017.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders link arms during the opening ceremony of the 30th Asean Summit in Manila, Philippines on April 29, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has expressed deep concern over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests at the 30th Asean Summit in Manila, amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Pyongyang tested another ballistic missile - unsuccessfully - early yesterday even as the international community ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the isolated nation to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Addressing his counterparts at the leaders' retreat, PM Lee said Asean needs to be "strong and united" in dealing with North Korea.

In an interview with the Singapore media, he said: "I think it's incumbent on us to exhort North Korea to change its position and come back to discussing the problem, rather than taking measures which can lead to disastrous consequences."

He said that while the group cannot do much in practical terms, it is important that Asean states its stand "so that North Korea knows that what it is doing does not have international approbation".

In a news briefing to cap the Asean summit, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the United States should be "prudent and patient" and not play into the hands of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "because the guy just wants to end the world".

He added: "If I were Trump, I'd back out, not really surrender in terms of a retreat, but just to let the guy realise just not to do it." He blamed both North Korea and the US for the rising tension, saying "there seems to be two countries playing with their toys, and those toys are not really to entertain".

Tham Yuen-C and Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Asean needs to be strong and united in dealing with N. Korea: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe