Although Asean is in an “awkward” situation between the US and North Korea in dealing with the latter’s weapon development, it is still wise for Thailand to utilise Asean mechanisms to express its stance regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a panel heard yesterday.
Asean members are diplomatically connected to North Korea and have faced increasing US “requests” to implement more sanctions against the country and to join the United Nation Security Council in expressing concern.
While Asean is also connected with North Korea through the Asean Regional Forum dialogue, the recent meeting in the Philippines had not proven to be fruitful, said veteran columnist Kiatchai Pongpanich at a seminar at Thammasat University.
“Asean is indeed in a tight spot,” Kiatchai said. “It should be remembered that North Korea tension is also linked with China, on whom North Korea is dependent.”
China, a regional partner and a rival with Asean regarding South China Sea conflicts, does not want North Korea to break down, which would result in many of its 25 million people fleeing across the border to China.
Asean will take time to make a move, including regarding negotiations. However, Asean’s earlier agreements had been effective to help Thailand position itself while avoiding excessive pressure, Kiatchai said.
Those agreements include the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality signed in 1971 and the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear WeaponFree Zone signed in 1995. Both had solidified Asean’s stance on nuclear nonproliferation while maintaining neutrality on other issues, he said.
Asean would also have to balance itself carefully as North Korea succeeds in testing and developing its intercontinental ballistic missiles and what appears to be a hydrogen bomb.
The ongoing crisis, Kiatchai said, was rooted in the unsuccessful international measures taken against North Korea, proving that sanctions and the sixparty talks had not worked.
Damrong Thandee, director to Ramkhamhaeng University’s Centre for Korean Studies, said North Korea could also seek funding from Russia and other channels, sustaining it despite UN sanctions.
The North Korea issue was a balancing game between China and the US, he said. While the US tended to ensure that North Korea would have a limited role in the international arena given its nuclear weapon proliferation, China made sure that no country initiated a preemptive strike against North Korea, Damrong said.
“The likely scene could be that these provocations will be done along with more talks,” he said. “Both the US President Donald Trump and North Korean Kim Jongun are very unpredictable.
“The US might adopt containment as was used with Iran, and that could as well become a modern example for other countries,” he added.