Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Rouhani Says Iran Could Quit Nuclear Deal in ‘Hours’ if New U.S. Sanctions Imposed — Iran votes to boost military defence spending

August 15, 2017

DUBAI — Iran could abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time — not a week or a month but within hours — to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani told a session of parliament broadcast live on state television.

Iran says new sanctions that the United States has imposed on it breach the agreement it reached in 2015 with the United States, Russia, China and three European powers in which it agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on six Iranian firms in late July for their role in the development of a ballistic missile program after Tehran launched a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit.

In early August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea passed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions in that bill also target Iran’s missile programs as well as human rights abuses.

The United States imposed unilateral sanctions after saying Iran’s ballistic missile tests violated a U.N. resolution, which endorsed the nuclear deal and called upon Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology.

It stopped short of explicitly barring such activity.

Iran denies its missile development breaches the resolution, saying its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.

“The world has clearly seen that under Trump, America has ignored international agreements and, in addition to undermining the (nuclear deal), has broken its word on the Paris agreement and the Cuba accord…and that the United States is not a good partner or a reliable negotiator,” Rouhani said.

Trump said last week he did not believe that Iran was living up to the spirit of the nuclear deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Angus MacSwan)

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BBC News

Iran votes to boost military defence by $500m

Sayyad-3 missiles on display at an undisclosed location in Iran, 22 July 2017
Iran said the funding for its missile defence was “not in violation” of a 2015 nuclear deal. Getty Images

Iran’s parliament has voted in favour of boosting investment in its missile defence and foreign operations programmes by more than $500m (£386m).

The bill, which received overwhelming approval, is in response to the latest round of US sanctions against Tehran.

The US imposed sanctions after a ballistic missile test in January.

Tehran says this violates the 2015 nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has called “the worst ever” and threatened to tear up.

The Iranian legislation must pass a second vote before submission for final approval.

Iranian MPs shouted “death to America” after Speaker Ali Larijani announced the result of the vote.

Of the members present, 240 parliamentarians out of 244 voted in favour of passing the bill.

It proposes that the government allocates an additional $260m for the “development of the missile programme” and the same amount to Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the official state news agency Irna said.

Mr Larijani said the move was meant to counter Washington’s “terrorist and adventurist activities” in the Middle East, AFP news agency reports.

Image result for Abbas Araghchi, photos

Abbas Araqchi

The 27-point bill will also impose sanctions on US military and intelligence officials in the region.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said the new bill was not in violation of the 2015 agreement limiting the country’s nuclear programme.

The nuclear deal, between Iran and six world powers including China, Russia and the UK, is largely seen as the best way to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

The agreement saw crippling economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for the country restricting its sensitive nuclear activities.

Mr Trump has recently backed away from his key campaign promise to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Mr Trump that he risks political suicide if he scrapped the nuclear deal with Tehran.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40916827

China Appoints New Envoy for North Korea Issue

August 14, 2017

BEIJING — China has appointed a new special envoy for the North Korean issue, Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, its foreign ministry said on Monday, after his predecessor, Wu Dawei, reached retirement age.

Kong, 58, is an ethnic Korean from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, who has overall responsibility for Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, according to his resume.

He has held senior positions at the Chinese embassy in Japan and from 2011 to 2014 he was China’s ambassador to Vietnam, two countries with which China has often troubled relations.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Kong had taken over from Wu, but that there was no connection between the appointment and the current situation on the Korean peninsula, where tensions have been rising in recent days.

There would be no change in China’s policy towards the Korean peninsula because of the new appointment, she added.

A Beijing-based foreign diplomat who is familiar with the matter said that Wu, who turns 71 in December, had reached retirement age.

Asked whether Kong had any immediate plans to visit Pyongyang, spokeswoman Hua said she had no information about that.

Tension on the Korean peninsula eased slightly on Monday as South Korea’s president said resolving the North’s nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully and key U.S. officials played down the risk of an imminent war with North Korea.

Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has underpinned a spike in tension in recent months.

China is North Korea’s closest ally, but it has been infuriated by its repeated missile and nuclear tests and has signed up for increasingly tough U.N. sanctions on the isolated nation.

However, China says sanctions are not the final way to resolve the issue, and has repeatedly called for a return to diplomacy and the restart of a six-party talks process with North Korea, which includes China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, and which collapsed in 2008.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

As tensions soar, South Korea mulls nuclear arms

August 11, 2017

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A photo from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows the intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an undisclosed site in the North. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL (AFP) – As nuclear-armed North Korea’s missile stand-off with the US escalates, calls are mounting in the South for Seoul to build nuclear weapons of its own to defend itself — which would complicate the situation even further.

The South, which hosts 28,500 US troops to defend it from the North, is banned from building its own nuclear weapons under a 1974 atomic energy deal it signed with the US, which instead offers a “nuclear umbrella” against potential attacks.

But with Pyongyang regularly threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” — and nagging questions over Washington’s willingness to defend it if doing so put its own cities in danger of retaliatory attacks — the South’s media are leading calls for a change of tack.

South Korea, which fought a war with the North that ended in a stalemate in 1953, is highly technologically advanced and analysts estimate it could develop an atomic device within months of deciding to do so.

“Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament,” the Korea Herald said in an editorial Friday.

After Pyongyang conducted two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month, putting much of the mainland United States within reach, the paper warned: “Trust in the nuclear umbrella the US provides to the South can be shaken.”

It urged Washington to deploy some of its atomic weapons to South Korea if it did not want to see a nuclear-armed Seoul.

The US stationed some of its atomic weapons in the South following the 1950-53 Korean War, but withdrew them in 1991 when two Koreas jointly declared they would make the peninsula nuclear-free.

But Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and formally abandoned the deal in 2009.

Tensions have soared in recent months with US President Donald Trump this week warning of “fire and fury” against Pyongyang, which threatened missile strikes near the US territory of Guam.

The North’s military chief Ri Myong Su responded saying that if the US continued in its “reckless” behaviour, Pyongyang would “inflict the most miserable and merciless punishment upon all the provokers”.

The latest war of words between Trump and the North — ruled by young leader Kim Jong-Un — unnerved many in the South, even though it has become largely used to hostile rhetoric from its neighbour.

A conflict between the North and the US could have devastating consequences for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, with Seoul within range of Pyongyang’s vast conventional artillery forces.

“A catastrophe is looming,” the South’s top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial this week.

“All options, even those considered unthinkable so far, must be on the table.”

– ‘Balance of terror’ –

In all the North has staged five atomic tests — including three under Kim — as it seeks to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

A survey last year — even before tensions reached a crescendo — showed about 57 percent of South Koreans supported the idea of nuclear armament, with 31 percent opposing it.

“We need to have our own military options to overwhelm the North,” the Korea Economic Daily said in an editorial this week, calling for a nuclear weapon to ensure a “balance of terror” and prevent Pyongyang from attacking the South.

But a South Korean bomb would infuriate Pyongyang, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, and make bringing it to the negotiating table even harder.

“The so-called ‘balance of terror’ would only turn the Korean peninsula into the hotbed of a nuclear arms race, not a peaceful peninsula,” said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

It could also trigger a “nuclear domino” in Asia, pushing others such as Tokyo and Taipei to seek their own arsenals, he added.

“Japan in particular would welcome it with open arms, because it provides a perfect excuse to revise its pacifist constitution and build its own nuclear weapons for ‘self-defence’,” he said.

Seoul’s defence chief Song Young-Moo said recently the South was “fully capable” of building its own nuclear weapon but was not considering the option for now.

Atomic arms are not the only way Seoul can step up its defences.

Song is pushing for the development of nuclear-powered submarines, although doing so also requires consent from the US.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In has also urged limits on Seoul’s missiles to be loosened in a conversation with Trump.

At present, Seoul is allowed to possess ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometres and payload of 500 kilogrammes. It wants the weight limit raised to 1,000 kilogrammes, and the Pentagon said Monday it was “actively” considering the revision.

by Jung Ha-Won
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After North Korea Test, South Korea Pushes to Build Up Its Own Missiles
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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/29/world/asia/us-south-korea-north-korea-missile-test.html

Philippine News Agency Criticized For Using Xinhua Article On South China Sea Dispute

August 9, 2017
Originally by Chinese news wire agency Xinhua, the story – titled “Time to turn a new leaf on South China Sea issue” – was released on the PNA website on Sunday. File

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine News Agency (PNA) is in hot water anew after it released an article that appears to side with China on the South China Sea issue.

Originally by Chinese news wire agency Xinhua, the story – titled “Time to turn a new leaf on South China Sea issue” – was released on the PNA website on Sunday.

It focused on China’s supposed commitment to improving the situation in the South China Sea, at one point calling the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippine case “ill-founded.”

The commentary noted that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to “directly resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes through peaceful means.”

“More than one year after an ill-founded award at a South China Sea arbitration unilaterally delivered by an ad hoc tribunal in The Hague, the situation in the South China Sea has stabilized and improved thanks to the wisdom and sincerity of China and the parties concerned,” the article read, referring to the ruling that voided Beijing’s claims over the whole of the South China Sea by affirming the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

“China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in compliance with international law, but it should by no means be used as an excuse by certain countries outside the region to stir up trouble,” it added.

President Duterte has expressed willingness to temporarily set aside the ruling to improve the Philippines’ ties with China. But he promised to bring up the tribunal’s decision before Chinese leaders within his term.

PNA has since taken down the article, although it is still available through the Google web cache (https://goo.gl/KpXAmT).

Netizens immediately criticized PNA for releasing the story, questioning the state-funded agency for supposedly being a mouthpiece of China.

“What’s this? This must be a mistake! PNA becoming a mouthpiece of China? PNA criticizing in effect tribunal ruling in favor of PH?!” former Cabinet official and Parañaque representative Roilo Golez said on Twitter.

“Is PNA funded by China now? It looks like it is now,” another added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said he has asked PNAofficials to explain why they should not face administrative charges for posting the Xinhua commentary.

“We have already sent a (memorandum) to PNA to explain in writing why they should not be held liable for any administrative charges,” Andanar said in a statement.

“We will take appropriate action against liable PNA officials and/or staff, if they are found to commit negligence in carrying out their duties and responsibilities,” he added.

http://www.philstar.com:8080/headlines/2017/08/10/1727360/pna-hit-posting-pro-china-article-sea-row

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

Hurrah for Vietnam, the country with cojones

August 9, 2017

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VIETNAM PROVIDED THE ONLY REAL DRAMA at the ASEAN conference. Here, Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (at left in blue) is the only one brave enough to challenge China at the ASEAN conference in the Philippines, August 5, 2017. At right, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano tries to write language that Vietnam can agree to. POOL photo

Hurrah for Vietnam, the country with cojones. You can understand why the Vietnamese have defeated every powerful country that invaded or attacked a land that produced courageous patriots like Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. In their victories, the Vietnamese didn’t even have any help from the United Nations or any UN-supported court.

These days Vietnam is taking on its giant neighbor, practically all by itself in a sea of compliant Chinese satellites in Southeast Asia. Given the history of Vietnam, it’s doubtful that it will be deterred by the lack of support for its maritime territorial cause from its fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations led by the current holder of the revolving chair, the Philippines.

Perhaps if Vietnam also filed a case against China before the UN-backed Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, international support may be mustered for the implementation of the PAC ruling last year that invalidated Beijing’s claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.

The Philippines, the clear winner in last year’s landmark ruling, should have taken the lead role in rallying international support for compliance with the PAC ruling. Beijing, after all, can be reasonable and has implemented reforms in the past to comply with global rules. Any nation that wants respect on the world stage cannot thumb its nose at international rules, especially those it has itself ratified, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Instead the Philippines, under the current leadership, has decided to set aside the ruling as a way of poking critics in the eye – notably those condemning its human rights record such as the UN, the European Commission and the US (under the Obama administration).

President Duterte then announced a pivot to US rival China. So far, by his own admission, he’s finding it difficult to get even his own loyal military forces to go along with his pivot and turn their backs on treaty ally the United States.

This is especially difficult when the troops see the Chinese rapidly constructing artificial islands all over the South China Sea – including areas specifically awarded by the arbitral court to the Philippines such as Panganiban or Mischief Reef off Palawan. Now the islands are being equipped for military purposes. You have to be blind or high on banned substances not to see this happening.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is tasked with external defense, which includes protecting Philippine maritime territory. The Chinese island-building and militarization pose problems for the AFP that the commander-in-chief cannot ignore.

Duterte has often expressed regret at having to send AFP members to possible death in Marawi and other conflict zones in Mindanao. Government troops like this President because they can sense that he genuinely grasps the gravity of asking soldiers to be ready to die for their country.

But the President should put his ears closer to the ground at AFP and defense department headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo. There he can hear grumblings about his seeming failure to grasp the threat that soldiers may have to confront one day in the South China Sea – specifically, in the area awarded to the country under UNCLOS as exclusive economic zones, which we call the West Philippine Sea.

* * *

This does not mean that warmer ties with the world’s second largest economy aren’t welcome. President Duterte deserves credit for this.

China is among the oldest friends of the Philippines; the two countries are linked not just by historical, cultural and economic bonds but also blood ties. I am just one of millions of Filipinos with ancestral roots in southern China.

For friendship to endure, however, it must be anchored on mutual respect. There is no respect in encroaching on your neighbor’s territory, which any map will show is way beyond your part of the planet. You don’t even need the UNCLOS for this; good neighbors know where to set reasonable boundaries.

Even President Duterte is aware of the importance of international rules, at least when it comes to trade.

Duterte has emphasized that he is not junking the PAC ruling, but merely waiting for the right time to bring it up with Beijing. For now, he prefers to focus on mending fences first with China and expanding cooperation in many other areas such as fighting the drug menace and terrorism as well as improving public works infrastructure.

It’s a sound approach for dealing with the “face”-sensitive, nationalistic Chinese after the arbitral court ruling.

But the President will have to present to the nation soon some positive consequence of his government’s rapprochement with Beijing. The AFP is waiting for it; Filipinos are waiting for it.

The one time that he raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart, he was threatened with war. Sure, the threat was softened by handshakes and grins and the diplomatese of formal meetings between the leader of a host country and a guest. But the message was unequivocal: if Duterte pushed through with Philippine exploration for minerals in waters declared as part of its economic zone by a UN-backed court, it would mean war with China.

How did we react to the threat? With bowing and scraping before the masters of the South China Sea.

ASEAN, especially under its current chair, has been largely useless against the masters. Its ministers issued an unsurprising, non-binding statement calling for self-restraint and “non-militarization” in the South China Sea – already a fait accompli.

China was the clear winner at the ASEAN gathering in Manila.

http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2017/08/09/1726892/satellites

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

North Korea Denounces U.N. Sanctions, Says Will Take ‘Righteous Action’ — “There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean.”

August 7, 2017

SEOUL — North Korea denounced the United Nations’ latest sanctions imposed on the isolated state, saying they infringe on its sovereignty and vowed to take “righteous action”, the North’s official news agency said.

The government statement reiterated Pyongyang’s previous stance that it will never place its nuclear program on the negotiating table as long as the United States maintains a hostile policy against the North. It did not detail what action it would take.

“There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean,” KCNA said.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

US Says Aircraft to Help Philippines Fight Pro-IS Militants

August 7, 2017

MANILA, Philippines — The United States has been providing the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight a months-long siege of a southern city by pro-Islamic State group militants, the top U.S. diplomat said Monday as he prepared to meet the country’s polarizing president.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Manila for a regional gathering, said the equipment includes a few Cessna aircraft and a few drones. He said they’ll help the Philippines battle “an enemy that fights in a way that most people have never had to deal with.”

“We think they are beginning to get that situation under control,” Tillerson told reporters. “But the real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge.”

Human rights groups have questioned President Donald Trump’s willingness to engage with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been roundly criticized for a bloody war on illegal drugs that has killed thousands of suspects. But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the U.S. decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.

“I see no conflict — no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities,” Tillerson said.

Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. said Tillerson indeed would discuss with Duterte human rights along with all other relevant issues. Duterte’s presidential spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said Monday that the topic would include discuss global terrorism threats, economic cooperation and security in Marawi, the city that has been under militant siege for more than two months.

“We also welcome the opportunity to address concerns such as human rights if and when raised,” Bella said in a statement. “We have always included this issue in our discussions and engagements with foreign governments, particularly Western democracies.”

___

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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China urges North Korea dialogue, says sanctions not sole solution — North Korean Foreign Minister Looks Delighted

August 6, 2017

Reuters

August 6, 2017

By Christian Shepherd and Karen Lema

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North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, is greeted by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi prior to their bilateral meeting in the sidelines of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its Dialogue Partners Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 in suburban Pasay city, south Manila, Philippines. Bolstered by new U.N. sanctions, the United States and North Korea’s neighbors are joining in a fresh attempt to isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs, in a global campaign cheered on by U.S. President Donald Trump. Pool photo

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, is greeted by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi prior to their bilateral meeting in the sidelines of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its Dialogue Partners. Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 in suburban Pasay city, south Manila, Philippines. Bolstered by new U.N. sanctions, the United States and North Korea’s neighbors are joining in a fresh attempt to isolate Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs, in a global campaign cheered on by U.S. President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA (Reuters) – China’s foreign minister said on Sunday new U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea were the right response to a series of missile tests, but dialogue was vital to resolve a complex and sensitive issue now at a “critical juncture”.

Wang Yi said the U.N. resolution’s call for a return to talks emphasized that diplomatic and peaceful means were necessary to avoid tensions and it was necessary to prevent the crisis from escalating.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday that could slash by a third the Asian state’s $3 billion annual export revenue over Pyongyang’s two July intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

Image result for Ri Yong Ho, wang Yi, photos

“After the implementation of the resolutions, the Korean peninsula issue enters into a critical juncture,” Wang told reporters on the sidelines of a regional foreign ministers’ meeting in Manila.

“We call on all sides to take a responsible attitude when making judgments and taking actions…. We cannot do one and neglect the other. Sanctions are needed but sanctions are not the final goal,” Wang said.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The new measures were a response to five nuclear tests and four long-range missile launches.

The latest, U.S.-drafted resolution bans North Korean exports of U.N. Security Council and seafood and prohibits countries from hiring additional North Korean laborers. It also bans new joint ventures with North Korea.

The North Korea standoff is expected to dominate Monday’s ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which gathers 27 foreign ministers – including those of Russia, Japan, the United States, China and North and South Korea – to discuss security issues.

CORDIAL TALKS

Wang met his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho on Sunday for bilateral talks that started off in a cordial way, with Ri smiling continuously as the two shook hands. Wang placed his hand on Ri’s shoulder as the two entered a meeting room.

“We actually had very thorough talks,” Wang said afterwards. “The Chinese side urged the North Korean side to calmly handle the resolutions the U.N. Security Council just made towards North Korea and to not do anything unbeneficial towards the international community such as a nuclear test.”

He declined to say what Ri had told him.

Wang earlier said it was important that Ri is attending the Manila meetings “so he can listen to suggestions from various parties and has the right to present his views.”

People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi talks to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (2nd L), during a bilateral meeting at Manila, Philippines August 6, 2017.Xinhua/Pool

But it was not immediately clear if Ri planned to meet ministers of other countries in Manila. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha expressed hope the two could talk.

Kang met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday and both expressed satisfaction with the passing of the tougher U.N sanctions. Tillerson described it as a “a good outcome” and Kang weighed in, adding it was “it was a very, very good outcome.”

The United States, which has long maintained that China has not done enough to rein in North Korea, negotiated with China for a month on the new resolution.

Susan Thornton, acting Assistant Secretary of State East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in Manila that China’s support showed it recognized the gravity of the situation, but it was incumbent upon Beijing to ensure the sanctions were implemented.

Slideshow (9 Images)

COMPLEX AND SENSITIVE

Wang said there was now a “high level of sensitivity and complexity” that had hurt China’s relations with North Korea.

He said he hoped all parties involved could seriously consider China’s dual suspension proposal, whereby North Korea halts its nuclear and missile tests and for South Korea and the United States to stop joint military drills.

“This is currently the most realistic and plausible initiative and it is the most reasonable and friendly solution,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley ruled that out on Saturday, saying Washington would continue to take “prudent defensive measures”, including joint military drills with South Korea.

Separately, Southeast Asian officials were still trying to reach consensus on a customary communiqué that was supposed to have been released on Saturday, reflecting differences about how to address disputes involving Beijing in the South China Sea.

According to several diplomats from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam wanted the text to explicitly oppose the building and militarization of artificial islands in disputed waters.

China is sensitive about ASEAN including even veiled references to the expansion of its military capabilities on the islands.

ASEAN’s problem in agreeing the wording highlight China’s growing influence at a time of uncertainty over the new U.S. administration’s policy on the South China Sea and to what extent it will contest China’s assertiveness.

Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell and Manuel Mogato; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Bill Tarrant

In Manila this week, ASEAN faces difficult balance between US and China

August 5, 2017
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Workers install a giant lantern with the logo of ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in preparation for the Aug. 2-8, 2017 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its dialogue partners at the Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — As the foreign ministers of Southeast Asian Nations meet in Manila, the regional bloc sees the need to strengthen itself as an institution while facing a tough balancing act between the US and China.

The meetings in Manila are expected to demonstrate the difficult position ASEAN countries found themselves in as they try to align their interests with or against those of the Americans and Chinese, whose foreign ministers will also be in Manila for a security forum.

Without engagement with the two economic powers, ASEAN, an amalgamation of democracies, monorchies, and dictatorships, would have difficulty achieving what it wants.

“I would say because I think ASEAN countries realize that they cannot prosper without engaging these great powers outside ASEAN,” said Philips Vermonte, an expert of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

For ASEAN to better do this, it should start to change some principles it has followed in the past years and begin to strengthen its institutions, especially its secretariat.

According to Vermonte, ASEAN member countries should contribute more to finance the region’s activities.

He said that each country provides a measly $2 million to the ASEAN Secretariat, making the bloc more susceptible to outside interference.

“This is something that needs to be fixed. If they don’t do that, we will rely on external powers in financing our activities, and that opens the way for great powers to interfere,” Vermonte said at a media forum in a posh hotel in Manila attended by dozens of regional journalists.

ASEAN to blame?

The bloc, which started as a crop of mostly authoritarian states, also needs a strong leadership, something that it has not recently seen, according to the Indonesian expert.

To address this leadership vacuum, Vermonte proposed the strengthening of ASEAN and its institutions.

“What we need to have is a strong institutionalization of ASEAN because we can’t rely on certain leaders,” he said.

Michael Vatikiotis, the Asia regional director of the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, said the weakness of ASEAN as an institution is what makes handling the “gargantuan” power struggle between the US and China all the more difficult.

ASEAN should come up with a set of guidelines and a code of conduct its member-countries could use as they negotiate with outside countries especially China, he said.

“Why is the code of conduct is being negotiated with China? Why can’t member states negotiate their own code of conduct and tell China that if you want to cooperate with us here’s our code of conduct?” Vatikiotis said, adding that the bloc is partly to blame for the complicated security problem it is now facing.

He said that a bolstered ASEAN could also help member-countries manage their security problems.

There should also be a review of the ASEAN’s principle of non-interference, which, Vatikiotis said, has been its weakness.

“There is no point in having these mechanisms and institutions for managing tensions and security of member states are too shy about involving themselves in one another’s affairs,” he said.

Another expert advised that the group hasten its community-building to add more political, economic and diplomatic muscle.

“We need to make our community more successful so we have more political weight and more diplomatic weight. We certainly need more economic weight,” said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, a research fellow at the ASEAN Studies Centre of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Termsak said that its policies should not supplant the national policies of the member-states even if ASEAN as an institution was reinforced.

United States or China?

Some ASEAN countries may choose to be pro-US or pro-China, or they may also opt to benefit from a relationship with the two great powers. Others, meanwhile, “may want to be doing a hedging, making money from China but seeking security protection from the US. Some governments may want to be neutral just like Indonesia,” Termsak said.

This is especially the case as the US and China offer ASEAN countries different benefits in their bilateral relationship with Washington and Beijing.

Vermonte, the Jakarta-based expert, said while Southeast Asian countries acknowledge that the US is on an economic decline, it should also recognize that it is still the most powerful country with the largest military.

“On the other hand, China will be the most powerful, (economic) superpower, but in terms of military China is still lagging behind the United States,” he added.

In the end, internal factors, more than external ones, are what will spell the success or failure of the regional group founded half a century ago.

Termsak has one piece of advice for the 10 member-states as they plunge into meetings and forums this week in the Philippines, one of the bloc’s original founding members.

“One important thing that we have to consider is when governments come together at ASEAN, what are our choices? The most obvious choice is to be pro-ASEAN,” he said.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/08/05/1725426/manila-week-asean-faces-difficult-balance-between-us-and-china

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Southeast Asian Diplomats Open Talks in Manila

August 5, 2017

MANILA, Philippines — The Latest on annual meetings of Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their counterparts from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas (all times local):

10:50 a.m.

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have opened their annual meeting at a convention and theater complex by Manila Bay without the usual security overkill. Motorists were allowed through as joggers, cyclists and tennis players sweated under a cloudy sky.

Public traffic was only stopped when the foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, arrived mid-morning Saturday.

According to metropolitan Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has shown disdain for security lockdowns that inconvenience the public. Still, police deployed more than 13,000 officers in the capital and declared no-fly and no-sail zones around the venue.

Topping the agenda are North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests, an attempt to temper South China Sea disputes and unease over a siege by pro-Islamic State group militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, which has dragged on for more than two months.

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