Asean expresses 'grave concern' over North Korea

ASEAN leaders sit down for talks in Manila, South China Sea, trade and North Korea on agenda.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) had talks yesterday with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace ahead of the Asean summit in Manila. The two countries agreed to step up efforts to combat terrorism, piracy an
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) had talks yesterday with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace ahead of the Asean summit in Manila. The two countries agreed to step up efforts to combat terrorism, piracy and transnational crime, including drug trafficking.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ministers urge restraint, diplomacy at summit; Pyongyang asks for support in letter to group

Asean countries have expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's missile tests and ballistic missile launches, despite Pyongyang's appeal to the grouping for support.

In a statement yesterday, Asean foreign ministers, who are in Manila for the 30th Asean Summit, criticised North Korea for its two nuclear tests last year and ballistic missile launches this year.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the country's media that the ministers were "gravely concerned" after the nuclear tests and missile launches "escalated tensions considerably".

"It may be far away from Singapore, but if there is any miscalculation, if hostilities break out, the human price will be horrendous, and there will be an enormous impact across the world, including on South-east Asia," he said.

In their statement, Asean foreign ministers called on North Korea to "comply fully with its obligations arising from all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and international laws". They also urged Pyongyang and all parties concerned to exercise restraint.

"Asean supports the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and, in this regard, calls for the resumption of dialogue on the Korean peninsula to defuse tensions and create conditions conducive to peace and stability," they said.

Asean leaders are due to meet today, when North Korea is also expected to be discussed.

Asked if Asean has any leverage on North Korea, Dr Balakrishnan said what the grouping has "at best is moral suasion, and we join the rest of the world in urging North Korea to comply with the Security Council resolutions, and for all parties to exercise self-restraint".

"The key protagonists involved, I hope, will not miscalculate and will understand that we need a diplomatic solution, we need confidence- building measures on both sides and not to allow this to spiral out of control," he said. He added: "Asean is expressing grave concern as a region which would be subject to both the horrendous human suffering and the economic impact of any conflict on the Korean peninsula."

Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh told The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao the group remains committed to de-escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula. He said he received a letter from North Korea, and has informed Asean members of its contents.

In the letter dated March 23, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho appealed for Asean's support in its row with the United States, to prevent what could be a "nuclear holocaust". He also criticised joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.

Tensions have soared in the Korean peninsula recently in the wake of North Korean missile tests and tough rhetoric from Washington.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and Indonesia yesterday agreed to step up efforts to combat terrorism, piracy and transnational crime, including drug trafficking.

"We recognised the need to address both traditional and emerging threats," Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told reporters after bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo, on the sidelines of Asean meetings.

Mr Joko said the two sides will convene a joint working group on counter-terrorism this year.

He said he and Mr Duterte hope to launch a maritime patrol - also involving Malaysia - "as soon as possible". Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed last year to conduct coordinated sea patrols and set up a hot line to combat piracy and kidnappings in waters bordering the three nations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Asean expresses 'grave concern' over North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe