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Southeast Asian responses to North Korean ballistic brinkmanship

Updated On: Jul 07, 2006

The US condemned the North Koreans for blasting its way into further diplomatic isolation with the launch of seven missiles on July 4-5.  But is that the scenario?

The missile test, which began shortly after 3:30am (2:30 p.m., Tuesday ET) and lasted for about five hours, included a long-range Taepodong-2 – capable of reaching US soil – but which crashed into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) within a minute. While regarded by missile experts to be a flop or mere fireworks display, the Korean launch has nevertheless provoked much response from the region as well as the international community, and prompted analysts to speculate the move as a pressure tactic for the Stalinist nation’s economic sanctions to be lifted.

Speculations and protests aside, most Southeast Asian countries have been quick to speak out against the tests but have also urged more diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.  Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed “deep regret” over the launch, and said it would have serious repercussions on regional peace and stability. Singapore and likewise Thailand and Indonesia, also urged Pyongyang to cease such provocative actions and return to six-party talks involving the US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

In addition, caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra suggested for the six countries involved in the talks to use the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) – with North Korea, South Korea, China, US, Japan and Russia as ARF members – as a venue to settle their differences. Elsewhere, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, senior aide to President Arroyo, called the launch a “threat to world peace” and expressed hope that “powerful countries and the UN will be in a position to stop the test firing.

Indonesia maintained the most pro-active stance by sending special envoy Nana Sutresna to Pyongyang on the evening of the July 5 launch. President SBY announced that he would not cancel his planned visit to the country on July 18-19, and would make use of the opportunity to persuade North Korea to ease the tension.

The most sinister and possibly real calls for concern particularly for ASEAN if an Australian report is to be believed is the lessons North Korea offered for another rogue regime.  Myanmar has apparently forged a closer alliance through an attempted nuclear weapons deal that was uncovered by the US late last year, prompting the latter to circulate a draft resolution to condemn Myanmar at the UN Security Council. Being a strategic asset to China and a warming of relations with a fellow reclusive regime, Myanmar’s nuclear weapons drive amid North Korean defiance – the regime warned on July 6 of "stronger" steps if external pressure persists – will prove to be an additional headache for the region. Therefore, it is perhaps sensible for ASEAN countries to seriously consider the American’s suggestion to convene a meeting of like-minded nations to discuss the issue of Myanmar at this year’s ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting.

Sources:

Japan warns S. Korea over maritime survey (The Straits Times, 4 July 2006)

Japan to take N. Korea launches to U.N. (AFP/Channel News Asia, 4 July 2006)

Singapore 'deeply regrets' North Korea's missile launch (Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

N Korea tests long-range missile (BBC, 5 July 2006)

North Korea launches volley of missiles on US holiday (Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

U.S. officials: North Korea tests long-range missile (AFP/ Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

North Korea launches missiles; test fails (Reuters/ Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

Japan seen stepping up missile defences after North Korea tests (AFP/ Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

Defiant N. Korea fires series of missiles (AP, 5 July 2006)

Security Council to discuss North Korea missile launches Wednesday (AFP/Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

RI concerned over N Korea`s missile test-firings (Antara, 5 July 2006)

China urges all sides to remain calm after N Korean missile tests (AFP/ Channel News Asia, 5 July 2006)

Burma seeks nuclear weapons alliance with N Korea (Myanmar Times, 5 July 2006)

Defiant N. Korea vows more missile tests, warns of all-out force (Reuters/AFP/The Straits Times, 6 July 2006)

Pyongyang test a big flop, say experts (AFP/The Straits Times, 6 July 2006)

IndiaChina reopen historic Silk Road trade route (AFP/ Channel News Asia, 6 July 2006)

Thailand 'gravely concerned' by missile tests (Bangkok Post, 6 July 2006)

Malacañang says missiles threaten world peace (Manila Times, 6 July 2006)

North Korea warns of new missile launches (AFP/ Channel News Asia, 6 July 2006)