By Roy Mabasa
United States President Donald J. Trump will have three major issues to discuss with his counterparts when he participates at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila on November 12 to 13. Patrick Murphy, US State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Asia, said these are the denuclearization of North Korea, the South China Sea and the fight against terrorism.
Murphy spoke at a forum at the Stimson Center in Washington D.C. Wednesday.
“The President’s goals in his meetings in Manila are to support continued peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia and across the entire Indo-Pacific region, as we seek the denuclearized Korean peninsula, respect for international law particularly in the South China Sea, and continued partnership in the fight against terrorism,” Murphy said at the forum which was sponsored by the US-Philippines Society.
On top of the list, Murphy said President Trump will asked ASEAN to consider whether North Korea’s actuations are in line with ASEAN’s principles of stability, peace, security and prosperity.
“Therefore, there’s a good question on the table whether the DPRK merits continued inclusion in international bodies devoted to these principles such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF),” Murphy said.
The ARF is a forum where ASEAN leaders and their dialogue partners can freely discuss political and security issues of common interest and concern. It is the only platform in the ASEAN where North Korea is participating.
President Trump is also expected seek to deepen support for the US policy of maximum economic pressure on North Korea, saying “it is really all about giving diplomacy a chance to achieve objectives.”
“He (Trump) will call on ASEAN countries to reverse the flow of North Korea guest workers and impose a ban on North Korea’s coal imports. Across the region we’ve seen a lot of action, particularly this year in response to the growing threats. And the President is in the position to continue to ask for further support for these objectives,” Murphy added.
The State Department official commended the ASEAN for issuing strong statements, specifically on August 5 and September 7, in which they expressed grave concern over North Korea’s provocative actions.
On the South China Sea issue, Murphy emphasized that while the United States support a meaningful Code of Conduct (COC) negotiations, he expressed hope that it will yield results that are “legally binding, effective and consistent with international law.”
While underscoring the importance of an inclusive dialogue, Murphy, however, said it is also important for the region, not just the claimant countries but the ASEAN and the greater region, “to speak out publicly and privately against militarization of outpost, land reclamation, further construction on those outposts in South China Sea so that dialogue can succeed.”
“It’s very difficult to discuss a binding code of conduct if there are provocative actions that continue in the background,” he continued.
Murphy took time to recognize ASEAN’s “good work,” specially this year’s leadership of the Philippines and Singapore as country coordinator on behalf of ASEAN for China.
On counterterrorism, Murphy said the United States remains “deeply concerned” about growing threats of terrorism, particularly related to ISIS affiliate, in Southeast Asia.
He assured that the US is very committed to partnering with ASEAN to strengthen multilateral mechanisms, to enhance aviation and border security, share additional information and counter terrorist financing.
Murphy said the convening of the ASEAN meeting in Manila is “quite appropriate” as it (the Philippines) is also having a challenge of its own in Marawi which left more than a hundred dead and displacing more than 330,000 civilians.
“A long-standing friend and ally has experienced first-hand the tragic effects of this growing terrorist threat,” he said.
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