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ASEAN Warning to North Korea Spurred by U.S. Pressure and Asian Economy

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yoong Ho, on Sunday during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meetings in Manila.

Wang said he urged Ri to adhere to UN resolutions and stop provoking the international community with missile launches and nuclear tests. He also said he advised Ri to take a “double suspension” approach to easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula—in other words, North Korea would suspend its nuclear tests and the U.S. and Japan would suspend joint military drills.

The warning to North Korea from ASEAN should soothe the U.S. government, which the organization’s members hope will become more active in the region. At the same time, they are trying to protect their own relationship with North Korea.

Although the Philippines, this year’s ASEAN chair, denied that pressure from the U.S. played a role in their statement, scholars suspect that Washington was indeed a factor, particularly in light of the fact that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is attending part of the organization’s ministerial meetings.

The ASEAN countries recognize North Korea diplomatically, and North Korea has embassies in eight of them. The nation therefore has an outlet for its money-making activities abroad, and Southeast Asian companies have been allowed to do business in a country that is normally off limits.

According to Sean King, Senior Vice President of political consultancy firm Park Strategies, some North Korean embassies effectively do business for Kim Jong Un’s government, possibly tempering any resolve in Southeast Asia to upset it.

“In addition to supporting ostensibly legitimate businesses like ginseng sales and restaurants, these embassies act as control centers for the North’s regional smuggling networks and other plainly illicit operations,” King said.

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