Thursday, August 17, 2017

ASEAN foreign ministers to take aim at N. Korea ICBM during Manila talks

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will express “grave concern” over North Korea’s recent test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in a joint statement to be issued after they meet this weekend in Manila, ASEAN sources said Monday.

The second test-fire of an ICBM Hwasong-14 is seen at an undisclosed location in North Korea on July 28. Photo - EPAThe second test-fire of an ICBM Hwasong-14 is seen at an undisclosed location in North Korea on July 28. Photo - EPA

The ASEAN foreign ministers will meet Saturday, a week after North Korea test-fired an ICBM for the second time in defiance of repeated international warnings. It fired its first ICBM on July 4.

The statement will say that, “Noting that these developments threaten peace and stability in the region, we urged the DPRK to fully and immediately comply with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” according to the sources.

DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

How to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs is likely to be one of the key issues during a series of meetings involving ASEAN member states and their regional dialogue partners like the United States, Japan, China and South Korea.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho is expected to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, a major venue for the discussion of security, on Monday.

On other regional concerns, the statement will not explicitly mention China’s militarisation of disputed areas in the South China Sea, according to the sources.

The document will say the gathering will be “taking note of concerns expressed by some ministers over recent developments” in the disputed areas, but there will be no specific reference to China’s ongoing activities, the sources said.

China, which has militarised areas it occupied in recent years, claims virtually the entire South China Sea. Several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims.

China occupies islands, islets and reclaimed land in at least seven areas of the South China Sea, and has built military-length airstrips and installed missile launchers and other military equipment in some locations, despite objections by other claimants.

In the statement, ASEAN ministers will welcome the agreement between ASEAN and China in May on a framework for a code of conduct in the region, the sources said, referring to the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or COC.

They are expected to say that “pending the conclusion of a substantive COC,” they will reaffirm “the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and overflight in and above the South China Sea,” the sources said.

The envisioned statement has been toned down from the chairman’s statement issued after the ASEAN summit in Laos last September. In that document, ASEAN leaders said, “We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments” in the sea.

In both last year’s statement and the draft of this year’s communique, there is no direct reference to a landmark arbitration ruling in July last year that invalidated Beijing’s claims to almost the whole of the South China Sea.

The Philippines had lodged a case against China over the latter’s sweeping claims in the region. But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to set aside the ruling for now in favor of cultivating closer ties to China in pursuit of benefits from the world’s second-largest economy.

The ministers will also endorse the full implementation of the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a nonbinding agreement created in 2002 by China and ASEAN member states.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Foreign ministers and delegates from ASEAN member states are expected to arrive in Manila beginning Wednesday for a series of meetings, including ones with officials from ASEAN dialogue partners, which also include Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union.