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No military deals with North, Yoon warns at Asean summit

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Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, looking on at the Asean Three Summit held at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, right, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, looking on at the Asean Three Summit held at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

President Yoon Suk Yeol warned against attempted military deals with North Korea, apparently calling out Russia, as regional leaders gathered in Indonesia to attend a series of Asean-related summits Wednesday.

“Attempts at military cooperation with North Korea that undermines peace in the international community must be immediately stopped,” Yoon was quoted as saying by the presidential office during the South Korea-Asean summit in Jakarta.

Yoon’s remarks came after reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to visit Vladivostok to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin as early as next week possibly to discuss arms deals amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

This could include the North providing artillery shells and antitank missiles in exchange for advanced Russian technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, reported the New York Times on Monday, citing U.S. officials.

Yoon further underscored in the closed-door meeting, “No UN member state should renege on its sanctions obligations regarding North Korea, including the prohibition of illegal arms trade, as stipulated by the UN Security Council.” He didn’t mention by name Russia, one of the five veto-wilding members of the council, in his first public remarks on the matter.

He said that North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats pose “a serious threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region, and a direct challenge to the international non-proliferation regime.”

Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, fifth from left, poses for a commemorative photo with Southeast Asian leaders ahead of the South Korea-Asean Summit at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, fifth from left, poses for a commemorative photo with Southeast Asian leaders ahead of the South Korea-Asean Summit at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The Asean meeting was an opportunity for Yoon to stress the need for “a stern and united response from the international community in order to achieve North Korea’s complete denuclearization in light of the severity of its nuclear and missile threats,” said the presidential office in a statement.

He also asked for Asean’s continued support in the international community’s efforts for the “complete denuclearization of North Korea,” urging members to actively partake in efforts to block North Korea from stealing virtual assets and the sending of overseas workers, considered key sources of cash for North Korea’s nuclear and missile weapons programs.

The meeting a part of a series of events this week involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including a key regional security forum scheduled for Thursday.

“South Korea, the United States and Japan have decided to coordinate each of our Indo-Pacific strategies and explore new areas of cooperation based on full support for the Asean-led regional architecture,” Yoon said at the beginning of the Korea-Asean talks.

He referred to his trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Camp David in Maryland last month which institutionalized three-way cooperation to better respond to regional and global threats including North Korea. The three leaders agreed to support the maritime security capacities of Asean and Pacific Island countries through agreements reached at Camp David, he added.

The strengthening of a “new era” of three-way cooperation comes as North Korea has been signaling stronger ties with traditional allies China and Russia after reopening its borders following the Covid-19 pandemic and seemingly resuming commercial flights to the neighboring countries.

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“It is clear that the international community is united and will not sit by and watch North Korea develop nuclear weapons and missiles,” Yoon said in another summit later in the afternoon alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

“We ask for your interest and cooperation in blocking overseas workers and illegal cyber activities that are used as a source of funds for North Korea’s nuclear and missile development,” Yoon said at the Asean Plus Three summit.

This grouping dates back to 1997 as a venue to discuss cooperation between Asean and its three East Asian partners, South Korea, Japan and China.

China and Russia are allegedly doing little to enforce UN sanctions to stifle illegal activities that help finance the cash-strapped regime’s weapons of mass destruction program.

During the meeting, Yoon also said, “Peace and stability in the South China Sea, a key maritime transportation route in the region, is critical for the prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”

He said South Korea will cooperate in maritime law enforcement capabilities with Asean and expand joint training cooperation with Southeast Asia.

Yoon also stressed the need to “revitalize the cooperation momentum between South Korea, Japan, and China,” said the presidential office.

He added that reviving trilateral cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and China could “serve as a steppingstone for a new leap forward in Asean Plus Three cooperation.”

This includes strengthening resilience against the food crisis, cooperation on future innovation and investment for future generations, including building an electric vehicle production base in Southeast Asia and building supply chain stability.

South Korea is the current chair of the three-way summit with Japan and China, which has not convened since 2019.

The South Korean and Asean leaders also adopted a Korea-Asean joint statement on “Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” or AOIP, cooperation, the presidential office said in a statement.

Yoon highlighted his commitment to the Korea-Asean Solidarity Initiative, or KASI, with plans to strengthen cooperation in the fields of security, economy and global crisis response, according to the presidential office.

The initiative was announced last year and expands relations with Asean, previously focused on economic ties, to strategic cooperation.

In security, this includes expanding defense industry cooperation and consultations between defense authorities and strengthening cyber security, transnational crime response and maritime security cooperation.

In economy, Yoon plans to push for a Korea-Asean digital innovation flagship project to strengthen Southeast Asian youth’s digital capabilities and jointly develop artificial intelligence-based services. A Korea-Asean cooperation fund of $30 million will be invested from 2024 to 2028, said the presidential office.

Yoon also called for cooperation in the Mekong River countries for sustainable development. Korea plans to participate as a new development partner in the Mekong River Commission ― involving Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to manage water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River ― providing $1 million next year.

The Asean member states are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Yoon further proposed upgrading the South Korea-Asean relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership next year to mark the 35th anniversary of ties.

From left, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio attend the Asean Plus Three Summit held at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
From left, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio attend the Asean Plus Three Summit held at the Balai Sidang Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia Wednesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

On the margins of the Asean gathering, Yoon also held a series of bilateral talks with leaders of countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada and the Cook Islands.

On Tuesday, Yoon and first lady Kim Keon Hee kicked off their two-country weeklong trip, which will later take them to India for the G20 summit in New Delhi bringing together the leaders of the Group of 20 largest economies.

After arriving in Jakarta Tuesday, Yoon and Kim met with Korean residents living in Indonesia for a dinner event.

On Thursday, Yoon will take part in the East Asia Summit, a regional security forum bringing together leaders from 18 countries, a rare multilateral dialogue involving North Korea.

On Friday, Yoon will hold a summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta as part of a bilateral visit marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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