South China Sea, NoKor's Missile Testing Hot Issues at ASEAN Security Forum

Manila Bulletin, August 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

South China Sea, NoKor's Missile Testing Hot Issues at ASEAN Security Forum


by Roy Mabasa

Washington is seeking talks on how North Korea can be suspended from Asia's biggest security forum as part of a broader effort to isolate Pyongyang diplomatically and force it to end its missile tests and abandon its nuclear weapons program.

But it will not be easy.

Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that North Korea's actions have violated the conflict-prevention aims of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) which groups the United States and North Korea with 25 other countries.

What the US government has been "sort of looking at is having a serious discussion of what it would take for a member to be suspended from this organization that is dedicated to conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy," Thornton added.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the ARF does not have expulsion provision like Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union where a country can exit.

Article 50 of the Treaty on EU is a part of EU law that sets out the process by which member states may withdraw from the Union. The article was used for the first and so far only time by the United Kingdom on March 29, 2017.

"If North Korea wants to exit I guess there are no hard and fast rules for it to be prevented from exiting," DFA Spokesperson Rob Bolivar pointed out during a briefing Thursday in Pasay City. "But as a forum, there are no rules for us to determine if this participating country should exit the forum. It's only when it is inviting countries to join the forum that we have certain criteria."

TOO LATE

The Philippines is hosting the annual ministerial meeting on Monday which will be attended by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

The 10 ASEAN foreign ministers will first hold talks among themselves on Friday and Saturday, during which the region's other major flashpoint issue - rival claims in the South China Sea and China's growing presence there - will be a top agenda item.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

While it may be too late for Pyongyang to be barred from the ARF meeting this year, Thornton said Washington would continue to "push the organization to think about what kinds of suspension measures or requirements or stipulations might be included in the future."

ARF is an important forum for security dialogue in Asia established in 1994. It draws together 27 members which have a bearing on the security of the Asia Pacific region.

The forum provides a setting where members can discuss current regional security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region.

CANDID VENUE

According to Bolivar, aside from the United Nations, the ARF is the only venue where there is a round table discussion among 27 countries that includes North Korea as well as South Korea, Japan, China, the US, Russia, the European Union and ASEAN member countries.

"It is the only venue thus far that we have to promote candid and free-flow dialogue, and to actually express our concerns to North Korea in a face-to-face manner, shying away from what Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano calls microphone diplomacy through press releases," he noted. "It provides a very candid venue for all the parties to express concerns to North Korea and to try to find cooperative ways of addressing the issue," he added. …

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