Asean to address US-North Korea strife

Writer: 
MERGAWATI ZULFAKAR

PETALING JAYA (The Star/ANN) - Asean officials said this was the first time that a senior North Korean official had asked Asean to address the issue.

The brewing confrontation between the United States and North Korea in recent weeks is expected to be addressed when Asean leaders meet for their annual summit here this weekend.

It is understood that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho wrote to Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh late last month, calling on the grouping to “make an issue” of the US-South Korea joint military exercises in the Korean Peninsula.

In the letter seen by The Star, Ri referred to the Korean Peninsula situation as reaching “a brink of war”.

“As you know, due to the annual war games in South Korea conducted by the United States and South Korea, the situation in the Korean Peninsula is out of control.

“The present situation in the Korean Peninsula eloquently substantiates how right we were to possess nuclear weapons and to take measures of strengthening the national defence,” Ri told Le in the letter.

“I express my expectations that Asean, which attaches great importance to regional peace and stability, will make an issue of the joint military exercises at Asean conferences and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean peninsula,” the letter added.

Asean officials contacted said this was the first time that a senior North Korean official had asked Asean to address the issue.

“So far, we have not held any discussions but leaders may want to address the situation,” said an official.

Tensions remained high as the US military started moving parts of its controversial Thaad anti-missile defence system to a deployment site in South Korea yesterday.

North Korea on Tuesday conducted a big live-fire exercise to mark the foundation of its military.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is attending the 30th Asean Summit on Saturday. He is scheduled to arrive in Manila today and deliver a speech at the Asean Business Advisory Council conference tomorrow.

Officials said the North Korean situation should be of concern to Asean as it would affect security in the region.

“Security will be a major concern, especially with investors. There are fears that investors are already slowing down because of development in the peninsula.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to prepare ourselves in the wake of any uncertainty,” said a trade official.

During their last summit in Laos, the 10 Asean leaders said they were concerned over nuclear tests, ballistic missile launches and submarine ballistic missile conducted by North Korea between January and August last year.

The leaders had urged North Korea to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and exercise self-restraint, and called on all parties to exert collective efforts to maintain peace and security in the region.

An official said Asean must help find ways for North Korea to return to the table for the six-party talks.

“There must be some concession. What does it take to get them back to the table? They are probably looking for friends among Asean since their relations with China are not so good now,” said the official.

The six-party talks involving North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia collapsed in 2008 following a rocket launch by North Korea. The talks were aimed at denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.

The Philippines, which is the current Asean chair, is going all out to ensure the 30th Asean Summit runs smoothly. Its chairmanship also coincides with Asean’s 50th anniversary this year.

Its military and police have assured there are no security threats directed at the summit and have deployed more than 40,000 security personnel.

“We don’t see any threat right now, but our planning is always based on worst case scenarios,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig Gen Restituto Padilla told a media briefing.