MANILA: ASEAN’s position on the ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula is “very clear and consistent”, Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said on Friday (Apr 28).
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Minh said ASEAN’s stand includes calling for the de-escalation of the standoff, denuclearisation and for the resumption of the six-party talks.
The six-party talks involving North and South Korea, China, the US, Japan and Russia collapsed in 2008 after a rocket launch by the Pyongyang regime.
North Korea had earlier requested for ASEAN's support in its row with the US over US-South Korean military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.
In a letter to Minh, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho warned that the situation on the peninsula was on “the brink of war” because of Washington’s actions. Ri also urged Minh to inform member nations’ foreign ministers "about the grave situation".
Minh added the issue will be discussed at the 30th ASEAN Summit on Saturday.
"Leaders will discuss the regional and international issues of concern,” he said. “The issue relating to tensions on the Korean peninsula will certainly be discussed."
SOUTH CHINA SEA CODE OF CONDUCT "A SUBSTANTIVE ONE": MINH
Minh also discussed the progress of the South China Sea Code of Conduct, a legally binding framework aimed at easing tensions in the waters that see through about US$5 trillion in passing trade. The framework also aims to ensure freedom of navigation and overflights.
Minh said China and ASEAN have agreed to on a framework by the middle of this year, with the conclusion of a preliminary draft.
“It has been developed and it will be further finalised,” he said. “For ASEAN, we are of the view that such a draft should be a substantive one with essential elements.”
While Minh said negotiations are still ongoing, the Code of Conduct is expected to be finalised at the “next meeting scheduled for May”.
“The complex developments in the South China Sea, that threaten peace, stability and security in the region, are important not only for ASEAN and China, but for all countries in the region,” he said. “All those countries (are) concerned about peace, security and stability, freedom of navigation and overflights."
“The code of conduct would be a very important instrument governing conduct of parties in the South China Sea, to ensure the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the region,” he added.
ASEAN CHARTER UPDATE: CONSENSUS IN DECISION-MAKING WILL NOT CHANGE
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia at the ASEAN Summit in Laos last year, Minh said the re-looking of the association’s Charter was in progress. The Charter underpins ASEAN’s norms and rules.
Among them is ASEAN’s policy of member nations making decisions through consensus, seen by critics as slowing down the bloc’s progress on issues. Minh clarified that the Charter is being updated and not reviewed. This means fundamental provisions under the charter “will not be touched”.
"Of course among the fundamental provision is the one on the consensus, on decision-making," he said. "This principle known as the ASEAN way has been working well for us and in fostering mutual understanding, trust, confidence and in a way, we are cooperating for self-interest and resolution of issues of mutual, common concern."
"This fundamental principle - that of consensus decision-making - will be there.”
REGIONAL COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP IMPORTANT
Minh also said the “early conclusion” of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is “important” in the support of an open, rule-based trading system. This, he said, is especially important amid the re-emergence of populist and protectionist ideals “elsewhere”.
The partnership will provide for a free-trade agreement (FTA) between ASEAN nations and its existing FTA partners, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.
Minh said with the next round of negotiations on the partnership to be held in Hanoi next month, ASEAN is working to conclude the agreement by 2017.