ARF ministers call on N.K. to fulfill commitment to complete denuclearization

SEOUL, The foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 17 other countries urged North Korea to fulfill its commitment to complete denuclearization during their Singapore talks last week, their chair statement showed Monday.

Singapore, this year's chair of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), published its statement summarizing the foreign ministers' meeting, which took place Saturday. The annual ARF is the sole regional forum in which the North's top diplomat participates.

"The ministers urged all concerned parties to continue working towards the realization of lasting peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," the statement reads.

"They also urged the DPRK to fulfill its stated commitment to complete denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear and missile tests," it added, referring to North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The statement also noted that the ministers welcomed the April and May inter-Korean summits at the border truce village of Panmunjom and the historic June Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

At the summits, Kim committed himself to the complete denuclearization of the peninsula, which was seen by optimists as a positive sign but by skeptics as yet another vague pledge with no specifics as for how and when to achieve that goal.

The statement, in addition, said that during the ARF talks, some ministers expressed their readiness to engage in dialogue with the North to resolve other outstanding issues, including humanitarian concerns.

Contrary to the widespread expectations, the chairman's statement did not include the phrase, "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)," apparently in reflection of Pyongyang's aversion to the term.

Regarding the absence of the CVID, Seoul's foreign ministry said that the ARF chair appears to have sought to couch its statement in "balanced" terms.

"The chairman's statement came out after piecing together opinions of all 27 member states and trying to reflect them as much as it could," the ministry said in a press statement.

"It is construed as part of efforts to use a balanced expression, considering the fact that the ARF is the only multilateral forum that the North participates in," the ministry added.

The ministry also said that it has explained at the forum that it was "desirable" to use the phrase, complete denuclearization, as it was used in the April inter-Korean summit declaration and the June summit agreement between the U.S. and the North.

Meanwhile, the ministers at the ARF voiced concerns over land reclamations in the South China Sea, an apparent allusion to Beijing's construction of artificial islands capable of hosting military installations.

"The ministers discussed the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the statement said.

"They reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law," it added.

Based on its growing economic and military heft, China has been suspected of seeking to expand its sphere of influence through man-made islands in the strategically vital waterway -- or farther into the Pacific. China's claims to the lion's share of the South China Sea continue despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague against them.

Source: Yonhap News Agency