Southeast Asian leaders urge tough stance on North Korea

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's leader, attends the Leaders Plenary Session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia Special Summit on Sunday in Sydney, Australia.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, attends the Leaders Plenary Session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Australia Special Summit on Sunday in Sydney, Australia.
(Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Southeast Asian leaders and Australia’s prime minister on Sunday called for North Korea to end its nuclear program and urged United Nations member states to fully implement sanctions against the country.

Leaders at the first summit of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations to be held in Australia issued a joint statement with the host country that also called for non-militarization and a code of conduct in the contested waters of the South China Sea, where China has become increasingly assertive.

ASEAN leaders also said they were working to provide humanitarian assistance for the continuing crisis involving Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed the matter “comprehensively” in meetings Sunday.

The ASEAN-Australia joint statement urged North Korea to “immediately and fully comply with its obligations under all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” and called on all countries to implement sanctions.


Turnbull went further at a closing news conference, saying ASEAN and Australia had affirmed their commitment to respond strongly over the “grave concerns we share about North Korea’s reckless and illegal nuclear missile programs.”

President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who are planning to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in spring, pledged last week to maintain “maximum pressure” on Kim’s authoritarian regime and seek action to force him to give up his nuclear weapons.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, the current chairman of ASEAN, said the bloc had been encouraged by negotiations for the summits and had “noted reports of North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear missile tests during this period.”

On territorial conflicts with China, which like Australia is not a member of ASEAN, the statement said, “We emphasize the importance of non-militarization and the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may complicate the situation.”

China and the five neighbors that have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea — which include four ASEAN members — plan to negotiate a code of conduct for the busy waterway aimed at reducing the risks of armed confrontations in the contested areas.

Lee said ASEAN policy meant it was “not able to intervene and to force an outcome” over the Rohingya crisis, in which more than 700,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh amid a Myanmar military campaign that the U.N. has called “ethnic cleansing.”

But Lee said the matter was a cause of concern for all of ASEAN, whose members would be anxious “if there is any instability or any trouble” in fellow member countries.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that the crisis was no longer solely a domestic issue for Myanmar, with fleeing Rohingya potential targets for terrorist radicalization.

The members of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.