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TENSIONS ON KOREAN PENINSULA

Asean leaders urge Pyongyang to exercise restraint in missile tests

Balls for fire shoot out of the muzzles of hundreds of North Korean tanks and artillery pieces during the firing drill on April 26, 2017, which Pyongyang said was the largest ever. SCREENGRAB FROM NORTH KOREAN RODONG SINMUN

Balls for fire shoot out of the muzzles of hundreds of North Korean tanks and artillery pieces during the firing drill on April 26, 2017, which Pyongyang said was the largest ever. SCREENGRAB FROM NORTH KOREAN RODONG SINMUN

Southeast Asian leaders have expressed grave concern over North Korea’s provocative nuclear and ballistic missile tests and urged the pariah state to exercise restraint to ease tensions in the region.

President Duterte, chair of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, told his fellow regional leaders at their annual meeting in Manila on Saturday that Beijing was key to reining in Pyongyang and asked them to prod China to talk to the North’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-un.

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“China holds the ace in solving the situation [on] the Korean Peninsula,” a diplomat, who was privy to the Asean leaders’ summit meetings, quoted Mr. Duterte as telling the Asean leaders.

The diplomat, who did not want to be quoted for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said Mr. Duterte gave the remarks in an “honest and off-the-cuff” manner and mentioned them in concluding the meeting.

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Possible US strike

By that time the Asean leaders had already presented their positions or “interventions” and that “almost all of them” had raised concerns over the tensions on the Korean Peninsula brought about by the possibility of the United States opting for a military strike against the North for conducting missile and nuclear tests in defiance of United Nations and unilateral sanctions.

Before Asean leaders met on Saturday, Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile, but it blew up a few seconds into flight.

This incident was pointed out by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the meeting of the Asean leaders, according to the diplomat.

He said some Southeast Asian diplomats made a thumbs-up gesture when Mr. Duterte stated that China, an ally of North Korea, could help ease the tensions.

After all, the diplomat said this was the “unspoken assessment” of the regional bloc.

He said Asean viewed the Korean Peninsula crisis as the “immediate security threat” in the region.

“We or individually could encourage China to directly talk to Kim Jong-un,” the diplomat quoted Mr. Duterte as saying to the Asean leaders.

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Asked if other leaders of the bloc made the same suggestion, the diplomat said there were “some who spoke of Asean’s bridging role” while others commented that Asean engage North Korea since it was a member of the Asean Regional Forum and for the group to remind Pyongyang to abide by UN resolutions.

The diplomat also recalled Mr. Duterte as saying that he found Kim to be “always smiling” and appeared to be “jolly” but that the North Korean leader made him “nervous.”

Mr. Duterte told a news conference on Saturday that he was expecting a call from US President Donald Trump and that he planned to ask the American leader to be more patient with Kim to avoid an escalation of the tensions into conflict.

In their final statement after the summit, the Asean leaders expressed grave concern over recent developments in the Korean Peninsula, including the North’s two nuclear tests in 2016 and subsequent ballistic missile launches.

They said these actions escalated tensions “that [could] affect peace and stability in the region.”

“We urge [North Korea] to immediately comply fully with its obligations arising from all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and stressed the importance of exercising self-restraint in the interest of maintaining peace, security and stability in the region and the world,” the statement said.

The leaders also reiterated their support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, “and for concerned parties to explore all avenues for immediate dialogue.”

Asean foreign ministers will meet with their US counterpart in Washington in May. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

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TAGS: Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Global Nation, Kim Jong Un, Missile Tests, North Korea, Philippine news updates, President Duterte
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