SINGAPORE - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is considering inviting North Korea’s foreign minister as a special guest to an upcoming ASEAN-plus-three meeting of ministers and their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea, ASEAN sources have said.
The idea, floated by South Korea, has been “quietly discussed” by ASEAN and its three dialogue partners, the sources said Friday.
The plan is to invite Ri Yong Ho, who is expected to attend a foreign ministers’ meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok at the beginning of August, to also take part in the ASEAN-plus-three ministerial meeting in the Thai capital.
Both meetings will be held there as part of a series of events during the annual gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers and their counterparts from outside the region from July 29 to Aug. 3.
South Korea has also proposed inviting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the ASEAN-South Korea Commemorative Summit to be held on Nov. 25 and 26 in Busan, South Korea, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue relations between the two sides.
“There is an idea … to also invite DPRK to participate” in the commemorative summit, a diplomat from an ASEAN country confirmed, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“But it would be wonderful if prior to the actual summit in Busan, there can be some kind of interaction” with North Korea on the sidelines of the upcoming meetings in Bangkok.
“ASEAN must be part of the picture to help solidify these game-changing dynamics in Northeast Asia,” the diplomat said.
Another option being considered is for Ri to join a meeting between ASEAN and South Korea in Bangkok, the diplomat said.
So far North Korea’s interaction with ASEAN has been through the ARF, a high-powered forum for foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific region to discuss multilateral security issues. As an ARF member, North Korea has sent its foreign minister to its annual meetings.
Indonesia, which is always keen to play a bigger role in regional security and also believes that promoting greater interaction with North Korea would enable ASEAN to contribute to the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, has been the most supportive of inviting North Korea to these meetings.
Some ASEAN countries, however, worry that inviting Kim to the ASEAN-South Korea Commemorative Summit might open the way for ASEAN’s other dialogue partners to also invite outsiders to their meetings with ASEAN.
But the summit idea seems to have gained momentum after the recent unprecedented meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, an official source said.
As a result, the idea is more likely to be realized than the other suggestion of inviting North Korea’s foreign minister to the ASEAN-plus-three meeting, as Japan might raise the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of its nationals during the Bangkok meeting if Ri is present.