The Philippines on Thursday appeared none too keen on leaving North Korea out of functions hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, despite calls from the United States to do so to pressure Pyongyang to end its nuclear and missile programmes.
Asean gatherings with its regional partners are some of the few venues where the issue’s stakeholders, including North Korea, are all present, making it a good platform to find “cooperative ways” to resolve the situation, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar told a press conference in Manila.
The Philippines is hosting this year’s Asean Regional Forum, with ministerial meetings slated for Monday.
The ARF is an important forum for security dialogue in Asia that comprises 27 members including the United States and North Korea.
The spokesman’s response came after remarks by a senior US official that Washington will seek ways to have North Korea suspended from the security forum.
“If DPRK wants to exit, I guess there are no hard and fast rules for it to be prevented from exiting but as a forum, there are no rules for us to determine if this participating country should exit the forum,” Bolivar said. DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The spokesman also emphasized that Asean is a venue where the matter can be discussed with North Korea in a face-to-face manner.
“Aside from expressions of concern, there might be an opportunity during that dialogue to try to find some sort of grounds for proceeding to more productive, cooperative dialogue,” Bolivar added.
Earlier in the day, the US Embassy in Manila said in a press statement that it is encouraging all countries, including the Asean member states, to “downgrade its engagements or exchanges” with North Korea.
“We hope that all ARF members will use this forum, which is designed to address regional peace and security, to highlight that DPRK behavior has been unacceptable and call upon the DPRK to cease its unlawful actions,” the embassy said.
Separately, Susan Thornton, US acting secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, made remarks in Washington on Wednesday about the same call.
Thornton said the United States is aiming for “diplomatic isolation” of North Korea as a measure to dissuade it from continuing further with its ballistic missile tests.
The Philippines this year holds the rotating chairmanship of Asean, whose nine other members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
North Korea successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4 and again last Friday, posing a possible game-changing challenge to the security of the United States and the rest of the world. Experts suggest the US mainland is now within striking range.
Former South Korean Foreign minister Han Sung Joo, at a forum organised in Manila on Thursday by several think tanks, said that while isolation of North Korea is a “useful” idea, continued engagement between Pyongyang and other Asean member states would be more preferable in this case.
“In general, I would like to see North Korea continue to be involved. That’s the Asean way — to engage,” Han said. He added that the United States has been “incoherent” in the past when sending messages to other countries on how to deal with the North Korean issue.
Aileen Baviera of the University of the Philippines, in the same forum, noted likewise that there are very few platforms to engage North Korea where other important players are at the same discussion table.
“They are all there at the (Asean Regional Forum). So, ARF should probably do more than try to isolate North Korea,” said Baviera of the university’s Asian Centre.
The ARF also includes China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, which along with the United States and North Korea are the members of the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear arms aspirations. The multilateral talks have been deadlocked since 2008.