Asean Regional Forum may bring Koreas together

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Asean Regional Forum may bring Koreas together

As the high-level talks between North and South Korea scheduled for this week fizzled out, the ministerial-level Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) forum to be held in Brunei at the end of this month takes the spotlight as the foreign ministers of both countries are expected to attend the meeting.

The foreign ministers of the 27-member Asean Regional Forum, including South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, are expected to attend the three-day meeting from June 30 to July 2.

Foreign Minister Yun meeting with his North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the forum could patch up the canceled talks that went sour over top delegates, some North Korean analysts say.

A Foreign Ministry official said, “Thus far, North Korea has not notified Brunei who will be attending the forum.”

He said that even if the North’s foreign minister does not attend, a lower-level official may attend instead.

North Korea joined ARF in 2000 and while its foreign minister did not attend every meeting, “in recent years, a minister-level official did not attend ARF only in 2009,” he said. “Since then, the North’s foreign minister, Park Ui-chun, has attended ARF each year.”

Pyongyang abandoned the six-party talks - involving China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to denuclearize the North - in 2009 to resume its nuclear enrichment program.

Park Ui-chun, current North Korean minister of foreign affairs, who previously served as Pyongyang’s ambassador to Russia, attended the Asean forum in Cambodia last July but did not hold bilateral talks with then-South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan. He did hold separate talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

North and South Korean issues have frequently been key topics brought up at the regional forum, such as reviving the stalled six-party talks, denuclearization and the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking in 2010, as it is a rare opportunity for the foreign ministers of the North and South to attend the same meeting.

But other Korean analysts are more skeptical of any sort of side dialogue between the North and South happening at the upcoming regional forum.

“If talks are meant to happen, they can happen before ARF in various forms,” said Choi Jin-wook, professor of the Korea Institute for National Unification. “The forum should not be the focus of talks between the North and South.”

Choi said he was doubtful of separate talks happening between the North Korean foreign minister, if he attends, with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts. “At ARF, bilateral meetings do not happen unless they are planned beforehand. Otherwise, the most they do is shake hands and greet each other.”

“High-level talks can happen on the minister-level or vice-minister level any time, and there is no need to wait until ARF,” he said.

The Asean Regional Forum was inaugurated in 1994 in Bangkok to encourage constructive dialogue on political issues and security and encourage preventative diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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