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Can ARF be the forum to address the North Korean missile crisis?

Updated On: Jul 11, 2006

Not long after lobbing missiles towards Japan and the US, North Korean Foreign Minister, Paek Nam-sun confirmed that he will be attending the 13th July Asean Regional Forum (ARF) which will be held in Kuala Lumpur later this month.

There will be plenty of opportunities for diplomacy as, after attending the ARF meeting, Paek would be on an official visit to Malaysia for two or three days during which he is scheduled to have bilateral discussions with his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar. Paek would be especially important in reaching out to the North Korean leadership since he has served on the North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly since 1990.  Besides the ARF event, North Korea's Minister of Foreign Trade Rim Gyong Man would also arrive in Malaysia on Tuesday 11 July 2006 for a three-day visit.

Conforming to recent Indonesian high profile in international diplomacy, Nana Sutresna, a special envoy of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) was the first to meet North Korean leaders after the missile launches.  Sutresna held talks with the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium President Kim Yong Nam,North Korea’s No 2 leader, as well as Foreign Minister Paek. 

Nana Sutresna was in Pyongyang to lay the ground for the eventual visit by the Indonesian President later this month. But he was also asked to convey Indonesia’s concern over the missile launches, and an Indonesian Foreign Ministry official added that Sutresna also carried messages from several countries, including Japan

He also delivered a personal message from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to request the North to return to the six party talks. "We are one of the few countries that have very good relations with North Korea. We hope we can capitalize on that.

Japan did take advantage of this narrow passageway for diplomacy. Taku Yamasaki, an influential Japanese lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, visited Indonesia on Thursday 6 July 2006 to deliver a message from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Yudhoyono. In the message, Koizumi asked Yudhoyono to tell Kim Jong Il to halt the missile launches because they would increase North Korea's international isolation and "achieve nothing", Yamasaki said.

While Indonesia with its special relationship to North Korean and Malaysia as the ARF host may be keen to play a role in the missile crisis, opinions in ASEAN’s other major player, Thailand, is mixed. The Nation, one of Thailand’s top dailies, has asked Thailand to stay out of the fray and worked instead on a united ASEAN response to the crisis. This might have arisen from Bangkok’s own experience with North Korea. Pyongyang has ignored repeated enquiries from the Thai government about Thais allegedly kidnapped by North Korea.

While it is unlikely that ASEAN countries can achieve what China, North Korea’s closest ally, has already failed (ie stopping the missile tests), these few rounds of ASEAN diplomacy would be helpful in conveying international opinions to North Korea through the neutral party of ASEAN. Hopefully, it can add further to Chinese and Russian pressures for North Korea to cease the tests and return to the negotiating table.

Sources:

SBY may try to persuade North Korea to stop missile tests (The Jakarta Post, 8 July 2006)

Indonesian envoy in China conveys concern over North Korean missile launches (BBC, 8 July 2006)

North Korea's Foreign Minister To Attend ARF In Malaysia (Bernama, 8 July 2006)

Time to rethink position on Korea (The Nation, 8 July 2006)

Indonesia envoy carries messages from several nations for N. Korea (Japan Economic Newswire, 7 July 2006)

RI may ask N. Korea to stop missile test (The Jakarta Post, 7 July 2006)

Indonesian envoy meets N. Korean foreign minister amid tension over missile launches (Jakarta Post, 6 July 2006)