In this East Asia security round-up, we look to the Korean Peninsula and South East Asia.
ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting
Coming up on 29 May will be the 6th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The ADMM is the highest defence mechanism within ASEAN and its main objective is to make an ASEAN Political Security Community a reality. The annual meeting is a dialogue for the region’s defence ministers to discuss regional security and defence issues, and to work towards enhancing defence and security co-operation. The theme of this year’s meeting is “enhancing ASEAN unity for a harmonized and secure community”. Attending the meeting will be defence ministers of all ASEAN member states.
North Korean Belligerence
At the end of the G8 Summit over May 18 to 19, world leaders warned Pyongyang that the consequences of future “provocations” and more nuclear tests or launches would be even tougher sanctions. Pyongyang has responded with belligerence, vowing to boost its nuclear deterrent for as long as Washington’s policies remain “hostile”. Pyongyang has also released bellicose statements aimed at South Korea, saying there will be “special measures”, whether military, asymmetric or nuclear-related against President Lee Myung-bak.
This comes along the heels of the much publicised failed rocket launch on 13 April, and amidst reports that Pyongyang might be planning a third underground nuclear test in the near future. Satellite imagery has witnessed increased activity in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. This is the same area where nuclear devices had previously been tested in 2006 and 2009. North Korea also seems to be making upgrades to its Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground at Musudan-ri, with the launch pad potentially capable of launching rockets or missiles larger than the one launched in April. While there has been increased activity recently, it remains to be seen what Pyongyang’s intentions are, with some doubting the imminence of a third nuclear test.
In related news, the politicisation of food aid has contributed to the dire food security situation in much of North Korea, with residents in its rice belt starving to death. Earlier this year, Pyongyang had initially decided to accept a moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile activities in exchange for much needed food aid from the U.S.. Pyongyang’s violation of the agreement eventually led the U.S. to suspend its plans.
The future of North Korea’s nuclear programme and its food security situation remain bounded and for now, the future does not look too bright.
ASEAN-U.S. Eminent Persons Group (EPG) meeting
On the South East Asia front, the ASEAN-U.S. Eminent Persons Group (EPG) recently convened in Manila, the Philippines, from 20 to 22 May for their inaugural meeting. Comprising of prominent individuals from all ASEAN member states and the U.S., the group met to discuss issues regarding economic and trade co-operation, security co-operation, and regional peace and stability. Particularly emphasized during the meeting was the importance of people-to-people exchanges. A key objective of the meeting, to “review key elements of the US-ASEAN partnership”, was also discussed.
The new initiative, established after the 1st ASEAN-U.S. Leaders Meeting in November 2009 and announced in November 2011, is part of ongoing efforts to deepen and enhance ASEAN-U.S. relations and U.S. regional engagement into the future.
A second meeting has been tentatively scheduled to take place in Myanmar in September 2012.
Report: N Korea vows to boost nuclear ‘deterrent’ amid US pressure [BBC, 22 May 2012]
Report: North Korea to boost nuclear deterrent after US pressure [Reuters, 22 May 2012]
Report: US warns North Korea against conducting nuclear tests [BBC, 21 May 2012]
Report: North Koreans in rice belt ‘starve to death’ [AFP, 21 May 2012]
Report: Activity ramps up at North Korean nuclear test site [Jane’s Defence Weekly, 18 May 2012]
Report: North Korea upgrade missile launchpad amid nuclear program concerns [The Australian, 23 May 2012]
Report: ASEAN, US talk security amid China stand-off [Channel NewsAsia, 20 May 2012]
Press Release: ASEAN-United States Eminent Persons Group to Meet in Manila [Embassy of the United States in Manila, Philippines, 20 May 2012].
Press Release: The First ASEAN-U.S. Eminent Persons Group (EPG) Meeting in Manila to Enhance Relations [ASEAN Secretariat, 21 May 2012]
Report: Cambodia to host ASEAN Defense Ministers'Meeting this month [ANI, 17 May 2012]
Report: ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) [ASEAN Secretariat]