Thursday, September 21, 2017

ASEAN to take bigger role in Korean Peninsula efforts

ASEAN has a positive role to play in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and helping to encourage North Korea to take part in peacemaking and regional development.

Also, under the new leadership of President Moon Jae-in, South Korea has adopted a more comprehensive policy on North Korea and the rest of Asia and is placing extra emphasis on ASEAN as a part of that new policy.

That was the consensus emerging from a one-day closed door meeting organised by the Korea Global Forum and Rajaretnam School of International Studies, at which two dozen experts from ASEAN and South Korea got together to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula. They concurred that more collaboration and cooperation are needed between South Korea and ASEAN to harmonise their approach on the issue.

ASEAN’s role is important under the new South Korean policy because ASEAN is considered “the fifth power”, apart from the major powers that are involved in the denuclearisation of the peninsula. Now is a good opportunity to engage the two Koreas and urge them to have a dialogue and increase economic cooperation.

In 1995, ASEAN set up the region-wide ASEAN Regional Forum, which included North Korea and South Korea as members. In 2008, Pyongyang signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which served as a good starting point for the hermit kingdom to engage more with the grouping.

The new South Korean government recently adopted a new approach by urging ASEAN to persuade the North to return to a dialogue and the Six Party Talks. The talks were designed to stop Pyongyang’s ambition to become a nuclear power in exchange for economic and humanitarian aid. Previous South Korean governments only wanted ASEAN members to condemn Pyongyang.

The Korean Peninsula will top the agenda at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Manila next month, and ASEAN ministers will try to come up with tangible ways to help ease tensions on the peninsula.

Of late, ASEAN has been under heavy pressure from the Trump Administration to do more on the issue as Washington continues to initiate economic and financial sanctions to punish North Korea for continuing to test intercontinental missiles. More sanctions could impact ASEAN as some of its members have close financial ties with Pyongyang.

While North Korea would like the rest of the world to recognise it as a nuclear power, the participants agreed that such an acknowledgement would not be possible as long as it continues to avoid dialogue and is perceived as a threat to Asia-Pacific security.

Furthermore, under its new government, Seoul has guaranteed that the denuclearisation of North Korea has nothing to do with regime change and economic reforms will continue separately from the denuclearisation effort, the participants said.

It is interesting to note that South Korea will continue to urge both the US and China to increase their concerted pressure on North Korea to take the escape route offered by holding talks with South Korea.