Southeast Asian nations have responded positively to Washington’s calls for pressing North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program, a State Department official in charge of U.S. policy toward Pyongyang said Friday.
Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have demonstrated “substantial change” in their dealings with Pyongyang, Joseph Yun, the American special representative on North Korea, said after holding meetings with senior Thai government officials in Bangkok.
“We had good discussions on all things DPRK and, especially of course, how we see the issues concerning de-nuclearization,” Yun told reporters in the Thai capital, using the abbreviation for North Korea.
At recent international meetings, including the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) summit in Vietnam and the East Asia summit and other meetings this year in the Philippines, ASEAN countries had shown “very strong support for regional stability and peace,” Yun said.
Participants loudly demanded that North Korea abandon its program of developing and testing nuclear weapons, the diplomat said.
“So, I would say, yes, the countries in the region are committed to upholding the requirements of the U.N. Security Council resolutions and, at the highest levels, they support the goal of a de-nuclearized North Korea,” Yun said on the final day of a two-day trip to Thailand.
The U.S. State Department, in pursuing a policy this year of so-called “Maximum Pressure and Engagement” toward North Korea, has lobbied countries in the region to downgrade ties with North Korea. All 10 ASEAN members maintain relations with North Korea, and Pyongyang is also a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
In the wake of an escalation of North Korean missile tests, the United States in August urged ASEAN leaders meeting in Manila to expel Pyongyang from ARF, but the regional bloc backed away from taking concrete steps.
However, both the Philippines and Malaysia downgraded bilateral ties with North Korea. In September, the Philippine government announced it had cut trade relations with Pyongyang in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
And ties between Kuala Lumpur were shaken this year after the killing on Malaysian soil of the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which Malaysia, South Korea and the United States blamed on the government in Pyongyang.
‘There is no trade’
In Thailand’s case, the kingdom had “substantially reduced” trade with North Korea – by as much as 95 percent – Yun said, noting that Thailand was the country that originally invited North Korea to join the ARF grouping, when it held the ASEAN chair back in the 1990s.
According to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, trade with North Korea stood at U.S. $1.6 million during the first three quarters of 2017, marking a 94-percent drop from the same period last year.
“It’s expected that by late 2017 there will be no export or import of goods between Thailand and North Korea,” Pimchanok Vonkorpon, head of the Thai Commerce Ministry’s Trade Policy and Strategy Office, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Yun declined to confirm whether he and Thai officials talked about North Korean companies using Bangkok as a Southeast Asian hub. But for the United States, there were no remaining areas of concern regarding Thailand’s bilateral relations with the communist regime, he said.
Yun said he came to Bangkok “with no agenda,” and added it was “purely, by coincidence” that he was in the country while informal, backchannel diplomatic talks between low-level U.S. representatives and North Korean officials were taking place in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
On Thursday, Yun met with Gen. Wanlop Rugsanoah, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Security Council, among other officials.
According to the NSC chief, Yun pressed the Thais to downgrade ties with Pyongyang.
“The U.S. asked Thailand to put more pressure on North Korea, put more trade and diplomatic pressure,” Wanlop told AFP.
On Tuesday, the eve of Yun’s arrival in Bangkok, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha denied that his country engaged in trade and commerce with the hermit kingdom.
“Thailand guarantees ... that we have abided by the United Nations resolutions,” the Thai junta chief told reporters, according to Reuters.
“There have been reports about North Korean boats in our waters ... I prohibited them a long time ago,” he said. “There is no trade ... there is no commerce.”