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Cambodia upset over ASEAN standalone statement on North Korea –diplomat

Cambodia is reportedly upset over the ASEAN ministers' standalone statement on the North Korean issue, delaying the issuance of the regional bloc’s joint communiqué at the end of their meeting on Saturday, a Southeast Asian diplomat said.

According to the diplomat, who asked not to be named due to lack of authority to speak to the media, Cambodia—said to be acting on China’s behalf—is seeking changes to the wordings of the final ministerial statement on the section on North Korea.

Beijing, viewed by the international community as North Korea’s most influential neighbor and trading partner, has frowned upon ASEAN’s statement, according to diplomatic sources.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who met his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho in Manila on Sunday, called on Pyongyang to halt its missile testing and to return to dialogue, but also urged the United States and South Korea to avoid actions that will provoke the reclusive state.

It was not clear how the separate statement on North Korea, where ASEAN ministers expressed “grave concerns” over the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula, was adopted despite reservations from Cambodia.

“The joint communique on the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting was ready for release but Cambodia wants to change the wordings on the paragraphs on North Korea to reflect that not all ministers approved the standalone statement,” the diplomat said.

In a statement, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the joint communique will be issued together with all the Chairman’s statements at the end of all the meetings on Monday.

Diplomatic sources told GMA News Online that the paragraphs on the South China Sea have already been finalized and will not mention sensitive issues opposed by China, such as militarization, reference to the international arbitral ruling won by the Philippines, and Beijing’s island-building in disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Vietnam sought a stronger language on the South China Sea, but it was overruled by most members, including the Philippines, stressing the importance of “trade and economic relations” between ASEAN and China.

The Philippines, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member regional bloc, is hosting the ASEAN ministers ministerial meeting and the annual expanded regional security forum that includes their 17 dialogue partners, such as the US, Japan, China, Australia, Russia, South Korea and North Korea on Monday.

ASEAN groups the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

In their statement, the ASEAN balked at taking tough actions against North Korea despite calls from the US to isolate and suspend diplomatic engagements with Pyongyang for defying international calls to stop its ballistic missile testing.

However, they called for the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, call for the exercise of self-restraint, and underscore the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions.”

Ministers said these developments seriously threaten peace, security and stability in the region and the world. — BM, GMA News