SINGAPORE - Japan on Thursday offered to cooperate with other Asian countries to address ocean pollution by reducing plastic debris.
The country, together with China and South Korea, will assist the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in enhancing their monitoring of plastic waste and assessing the impact on the marine ecosystem through research, according to an action plan presented at their leaders’ summit.
Large amounts of marine plastic waste have become a serious global issue. Small plastic debris is hard to retrieve and the full impact of it on the environment has yet to be fully determined.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of unity among the ASEAN plus three group so “strong momentum” will be generated to resolve global challenges.
The leaders also discussed regional issues, including the North Korean nuclear threat. Singapore, the site of the ASEAN talks, was also where U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a historic meeting in mid-June. But the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks have produced few tangible results so far despite initial hopes.
On Wednesday, Abe asked his ASEAN counterparts to continue making efforts to fully enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea, a government official said.
Abe’s remarks came amid fears that some members of the 10-nation group may become inclined to relax sanctions on Pyongyang, which has recently pledged to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
To make North Korea abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” manner, “full implementation of U.N. resolutions is necessary,” Abe was quoted by the Japanese official as telling the ASEAN leaders.
He expressed hope that ASEAN member-states will strengthen maritime surveillance of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of goods, as such activities are used by North Korea to evade U.N. sanctions imposed on the country following a series of nuclear and missile tests.
All ASEAN members have diplomatic ties with North Korea, although Japan does not.
As China, which has a powerful influence on countries of East and Southeast Asia, has called for the easing of international sanctions against Pyongyang, speculation has also been mounting that ASEAN might follow suit.
In early October, North Korea reached an agreement with China and Russia to urge the U.N. Security Council to review sanctions against Pyongyang, arguing that the country has already started taking practical measures toward denuclearization, its state-run media said.
In addition, vice foreign ministers of the three nations during their talks in Moscow confirmed their opposition to sanctions individual countries have imposed on North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Japan and the United States, which has promised Pyongyang it will give it security guarantees in return for its denuclearization, have reiterated that sanctions should not be alleviated until North Korea completes the process of ridding itself of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s relations with China, its main economic lifeline, have markedly improved this year, while Pyongyang suddenly began a major diplomatic outreach, first to South Korea and then to the United States.
Since March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has visited China three times for summit talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pyongyang is believed to be aiming to promote negotiations with Washington with the backing of Beijing.
China and North Korea fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War against the U.S.-led United Nations Command. The two countries have been described as “blood brothers.”