Asia-Pacific foreign ministers and America’s top diplomat called for a peaceful resolution to disputes on Friday as they wrapped up an annual security meeting, where tensions in the South China Sea and North Korea’s latest missile launches were high on the agenda.
As Thailand hosted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and ministers from more than two dozen countries at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bangkok, small bombs exploded in the Thai capital, injuring four people, police said. But the blasts did not disrupt proceedings where diplomats talked about regional security issues, including prospects for rekindling stalled negotiations with Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons program.
“ASEAN also has a goal, which is a collective gain for all involved, where the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts,” Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, the chairman of this year’s regional forum, told a news conference, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“There must be more efforts generated into talks to lessen friction and come up with acceptable solutions,” he said.
Negotiations aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula were overshadowed by Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile tests, which South Korean and U.S. officials said, included the launching of a pair of short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast on Thursday.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho did not participate at this year’s regional security forum despite overtures by Washington to resume talks with Pyongyang.
It was the first time in 10 years that Pyongyang did not send its top diplomat to the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum, which allows the region’s key partners to participate. The forum includes the United States, China, Russia and South Korea, among other major nations.
Pompeo expressed regret after Ho failed to show up.
North Korea has yet to issue a response to Washington’s efforts to hold more talks, but a Pentagon official earlier told reporters that Pyongyang’s recent missile test-firings would not impact the U.S. defense posture.
After a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday, France, Germany and Britain condemned the latest North Korean missiles tests.
Pyongyang also launched two missiles from the Hodo Peninsula in the east coast province of South Hamgyong earlier this week, according to the South Korean news service Yonhap, quoting defense officials. The missiles did not pose any immediate threat to the U.S. or its regional allies, U.S. officials told NBC News.
On Thursday, Pompeo held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of a series of ASEAN meetings. Wang hailed their bilateral meeting and said it helped increase “mutual understanding,”
Pompeo also met Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, and his Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, on the same day to talk about the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan and four ASEAN states – Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines – have contending territorial claims.
The three diplomats, in a joint statement released by the U.S. State Department, reaffirmed their commitment to working with other countries to ensure that “freedom of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea are upheld.”
“They reaffirmed their commitment to working with other countries to uphold a rules-based order, including to ensure that: disputes are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law and without the threat or use of force,” said the statement, which was issued on Friday.
On Friday, the ASEAN chairman also issued a similar statement saying that the ministers had “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.”
Pompeo, whose weeklong tour of the Indo-Pacific region had been described by analysts as a symbol of Washington’s bid to forge closer ties with Southeast Asian nations, urged his counterparts on Thursday to speak out against what he called “Chinese coercion” in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and frequently castigates Washington and its allies for naval operations in the maritime region, where China has built numerous military installations with advanced ballistic-missile capabilities on reclaimed islands under its control.
Last month, during its 34th summit that was also held in Bangkok, ASEAN also called for “non-militarization” and “self-restraint” in the South China Sea, after claimant nations raised concerns over China’s maritime activities and land reclamations in the disputed region.