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Koreas gear up for Asean forum

July 31,2018
South Korea’s foreign minister is in Singapore this week to take part in the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), one of the rare regional security conferences where North Korea regularly sends its foreign minister to participate.

The forum could be the stage for the first bilateral talks between the two Koreas’ top envoys in 11 years. The South will be represented by Kang Kyung-wha and the North by Ri Yong-ho.

The forum includes not only the two Koreas but also all the key regional players including the United States, China, Japan and Russia - all members of the now defunct six-party talks.

Kang kicks off her seven-day trip to Singapore today. On her schedule are a slew of meetings with foreign ministers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) where she will lobby for their support in South Korea’s vision for the Korean Peninsula.

The South’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Monday that Kang “plans to explain the South Korean government’s efforts toward the complete denuclearization and settlement of peace on the Korean Peninsula, along with our policy on the Korean Peninsula, and seek support and cooperation from the Asean nations and the international community.”

A meeting between Kang and Ri is currently in the works. Ri may also hold bilateral talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the forum. The two last met face to face during Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang on July 6 and 7.

Ri greeted Pompeo in person at Pyongyang International Airport upon the secretary’s arrival to the country as a follow-up to the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June.

Trilateral talks involving Kang, Ri and Pompeo are another possibility. Kang and Pompeo last met in New York earlier this month.

Should such a meeting take place, one topic of discussion could be the declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Friday marked the 65th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement.

With denuclearization talks apparently in a standstill since Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang earlier this month and amid Washington’s continued enforcement of tough sanctions on the country, North Korea’s repatriation last week of remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War could put negotiations back on track.

China may also have a chance to get involved in the discussions, especially since it is a signatory to the armistice agreement, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will also be attending the regional forum.

Last week, Kang told the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee in a hearing, “I believe that China is an important partner that we need to cooperate with on the Korean Peninsula issue and can add weight to a deal in the long term.”

The Asean Regional Forum, first held in 1994, is hosted by the 10 members of Asean: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Kang will participate in the South Korea-Asean and South Korea-Mekong meeting on Friday. On Saturday, she has the so-called ASEAN-plus-three meeting involving South Korea, Japan and China as well as the East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum foreign ministers’ meeting. She will also be holding various bilateral talks on the sidelines.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry noted that the ARF foreign ministers’ meeting will include the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the European Union. It expects this meeting and the other bilateral talks “to give impetus toward various diplomatic efforts for progress in the denuclearization and establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]