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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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N.Korea sparks debate at ARF

Kathleen Ocampo

Aug. 7, 2017

Foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific region have been sitting down together in Manila for their annual talks. At the top of their agenda was regional security, especially the latest missile test by North Korea. This year's ASEAN Regional Forum -- or ARF -- is in the spotlight as it came days after the United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile testing.

The issue generated a heated exchange of words at Asia's biggest security gathering. It drew 27 foreign ministers, including those from Japan, the US, China, Russia, and North and South Korea.

Tensions have escalated on the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang announced it had recently conducted its second intercontinental ballistic missile test. The country has repeatedly test-launched missiles and is actively pursuing nuclear development.

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution banning major exports from North Korea. It includes a total ban on trade of items such as coal, iron and iron ore, and seafood -- a move that could slash North Korea's US$3 billion annual export revenue by a third.

NHK World's Kathleen Ocampo joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya from a press center close to the venue. She has been covering a series of ASEAN meetings in Manila.

Nakayama: What kind of maneuvering have we seen from the diplomats?

Ocampo: The United States is apparently ramping up pressure on Pyongyang, while Russia and China favor dialogue.

"I think the strong UN Security Council resolution unanimously approved, working in coordination with China and Russia both to put out a statement from the Security Council that I think is quite clear in terms of there being no daylight among the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps to achieve all of our objectives, which is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula."
-Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State

A working draft of the chairman's statement obtained by NHK mentions grave concern over North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests. And the draft urges North Korea to comply fully and immediately with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The North claims that its nuclear weapons program is intended for self-defense in response to other nations' hostile policies toward it.

Shibuya: North Korea attends ARF every year, making it a rare case among international meetings. Do you have anything to report on North Korea's foreign minister?

Ocampo: Here in Manila, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, for the first time in a year. Chinese officials say Wang urged Ri to engage in dialogue with countries including the US.

"The situation over the Korean Peninsula is reaching a critical point of crisis, but it's also a turning point for North Korea to return to a negotiation table," said Wang.

A South Korean government official told NHK that Ri also had a brief conversation with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, on Sunday. According to the official, Ri criticized Seoul's proposal to improve ties with the North, saying it lacks sincerity.

On Monday, North Korea reacted sharply to the new UN resolution. The state-run media says the country will decisively attack the US in every way in response to that country's challenge to them. And it hinted it would carry out another military provocation, saying it would resort to the final option.

Nakayama: Another thorny issue for ASEAN is the South China Sea dispute. How are the member countries dealing with it?

Ocampo: On the whole, China's efforts to gain ASEAN countries' understanding seem to be working. ASEAN members approved a framework for a Code of Conduct of parties involved in the issue.

It is not thought to be legally binding at the moment. And the draft chairman's statement of ASEAN ministers made no reference to Chinese activities in the waters -- something that was mentioned in last year's statement.

Some ASEAN countries have recently softened their stance. This is because as China's economic clout grows, so too does its influence over many of those nations. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been seeking closer ties with China in a bid to obtain financial assistance for infrastructure development in his country. Vietnam has now become the most vocal critic of China's activities. It is insisting that mention should be made of China's land reclamation and militarization of the islands.

Other countries, including Cambodia, have adopted a stance that puts them closer to China. So it's becoming more difficult for ASEAN nations to be unified in taking a tougher stance against the country.