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Asean diplomats expected to criticize North’s nuke program

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North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia and the Asean region, An Kwang-il, center, attends the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday. [YONHAP]
North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia and the Asean region, An Kwang-il, center, attends the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday. [YONHAP]

Top Asean diplomats are soon expected to release a statement heavily critical of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“Indonesia, the chair of the Asean Regional Forum [ARF], will decide the timing of the announcement of the chairman’s statement, but for now, the expression on CVID [complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization] is expected to be reflected in the North Korea-related texts in the statement,” a Foreign Ministry official told the press in Seoul on Monday.

The chairman’s statement from the ARF is usually announced a few days after the annual forum’s conclusion. The forum was hosted this year by Indonesia from last Thursday to Friday.

The complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, a term used by previous South Korean and U.S. administrations, was largely avoided during the liberal Moon Jae-in administration which sought political engagement with Pyongyang. However, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration has resumed using it at international fora.

“We have coordinated [with our counterparts] to issue a firm and united message that would serve as a stinging warning to North Korea,” said the official.

During the forum’s official programs and in sideline meetings with Asean diplomats and ministers from Australia, India and other regional powers, Foreign Minister Park Jin stressed the need for a united regional response to the North’s continued military provocations, according to the ministry.

This wouldn’t be the first time the term CVID has been used in the chairman’s statement from the Asean Regional Forum.

Last year, under Cambodia’s chairmanship, the statement criticized the North’s military actions and expressed “support for the international efforts to bring about the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”

The forum is the only multilateral forum in the Indo-Pacific region attended by North Korea. For the past four years, North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia and the Asean region, An Kwang-il, has attended the forum.

Foreign Minister Park Jin meets with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat and director of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs committee, on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta on Friday. [MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]
Foreign Minister Park Jin meets with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat and director of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs committee, on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta on Friday. [MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]

The regional forum this year coincided with the North’s Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile launch last Wednesday. Asean foreign ministers issued a statement on Friday expressing “grave concern” about the missile launch.

Park held no official meetings with An but conveyed a message in a brief encounter on Friday morning after his meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

“Shouldn’t North Korea stop missile launches and start denuclearization talks for peace on the Korean Peninsula?” Park was quoted to have asked An, according to a high-ranking ministry official.

An was said to have given no particular response.

In a foreign ministerial meeting on that day, An reportedly blamed others in the region for escalating tensions, including South Korea and the United States. He had also denied that the North’s military actions pose a threat to the region.

“That’s equivalent to shooting away with a machine gun and then saying to those who didn’t get hit that you are safe,” Park was quoted to have said in his remarks in the same meeting, according to the ministry. “The argument that the Republic of Korea-U.S. joint military exercises caused the escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula is unreasonable, like putting the cart before the horse.”

From left, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Korea's Foreign Minister Park Jin meet on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta on Friday. [MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]
From left, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin meet on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum in Jakarta on Friday. [MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]

High-level meetings with China, the United States and Japan also took place on the sidelines of the forum last week.

Park met on Friday with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat and director of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs committee. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, originally scheduled to attend the forum, pulled out at the last minute, citing health reasons.

Contrary to the tit-for-tat war of words that Seoul and Beijing have engaged in for months this year over regional issues including Taiwan, the official statements that followed the meeting were largely cordial.

“Recently, the difficulties and challenges facing China-Republic of Korea relations have increased, which is not in the fundamental and long-term interests of the two peoples,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry in a statement on Saturday. “We are willing to work with the Republic of Korea in the spirit of mutual respect […] and return the China-ROK strategic cooperative partnership to the track of healthy and stable development.”

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul also stressed the need for closer bilateral cooperation to encourage the North to return to talks and the denuclearization process.

Park also met with his Japanese and U.S. counterparts on Friday. While all three governments released statements about the meeting afterward, only the Japanese Foreign Ministry included details about its plan to release treated radioactive water into the sea.

“The three Ministers exchanged views on […] coordination to prevent the spread of disinformation regarding ALPS treated water,” it said, referring to the Advanced Liquid Processing System used to treat the contaminated water of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The plan has been met with strong opposition from both civic groups and fishing communities in Korea.

Oh Young-ju, the second vice foreign minister of Korea, said that the Fukushima issue was unlikely to be included in the Asean Regional Forum’s chairman’s statement, in an interview with local media outlet YTN on Sunday.

BY PARK HYUN-JU, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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