Singapore deeply concerned by North Korea's actions, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

"Asean needs to be strong and united in calling for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cease all provocative actions and return to the path of dialogue," said Mr Lee. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed deep concern over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests when Asean leaders met at the 30th Asean Summit on Saturday (April 29), amid rising tensions in the Korean peninsula.

The government in Pyongyang tested another ballistic missile on Saturday, even as the international community has 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 in Manila, Mr Lee said:"Singapore is deeply concerned by the series of deliberate and provocative actions by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), including its two nuclear tests in January and September 2016, and the successive ballistic missile launches this year, including another one today."

He added that the actions are clear violations of UN Security Council Resolutions, and present a grave threat to regional peace, security and stability.

The heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula dominated the agenda at meetings in the past few days between Asean leaders, foreign ministers and officials.

"Asean needs to be strong and united in calling for the DPRK to cease all provocative actions and return to the path of dialogue," said Mr Lee as he spelt out why he believed that the regional bloc should speak with a unified voice on issues that affect the region.

Another such issue is the South China Sea maritime dispute, he said.

On this front, he said he was happy that Asean member nations and China were making progress towards finalising a framework on the code of conduct in the disputed waters by mid-2017.

The framework will set the parameters for parties to negotiate a legally-binding code on behaviour in waters.

China claims territories in the South China Sea which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Mr Lee said that though not all Asean countries are claimant states, it is in the region's common interest to ensure there is peace and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance to international law."

"Any mishaps at sea could easily escalate into conflicts and threaten regional peace and stability," he said.

During the retreat, Mr Lee also said it was vital for Asean to continue engaging China and the United States.

He noted that both China and the US are setting new directions in security, trade policy and other issues.

China will hold its 19th Party Congress this year, and the US has just ushered in a new administration with a very different approach to world and domestic affairs.

"It is important to signal that Asean wants to strengthen our relationship with both big powers," he said, adding that the 10-nation grouping was already engaging both countries.

Asean foreign ministers will meet US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week in Washington.

President Trump will also attend the Asean-US Summit and the East Asian Summit in November, as his predecessor had, said Mr Lee, welcoming this.

This follows a successful visit of US Vice-President Mike Pence to Indonesia, he added.

"It is important that we deepen our relationships with US and China, especially in areas such as terrorism, and economic cooperation. There is a lot that ASEAN can do and we should work together so that our partners, especially the big powers, find it worthwhile to do business with us," he said.

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