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SE Asia urges Korea breakthrough, warns arms race

By Staff
Google Oneindia News

Cebu (Philippines), Jan 14: Southeast Asian countries will urgeChina, Japan and South Korea today to find fresh ideas to resolve theNorth Korean nuclear crisis and remove the threat of an atomic armsrace in the region.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which wantsto establish itself as a world player, will wade into the discussion onNorth Korea at a regional summit in the central Philippines, accordingto documents seen by Reuters.

China and Japan are both seeking to influence ASEAN, which onSaturday brought forward its target date for economic integration to2015 and agreed to become a rules-based bloc with teeth, a bolddeparture for a group frequently derided as a talking shop.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sealed a trade pact with ASEAN and saidboth sides would continue to advance their ''strategic partnership''this year.

Later, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fresh from a tour ofEurope, was to highlight Tokyo's desire to play a more prominentsecurity role in the region with an agreement to support SoutheastAsian maritime security.

Although competing for ASEAN's affections, Wen and Abe were keento display warmer bilateral relations in a meeting on the resort islandof Cebu after years of hostility under Abe's predecessor, JunichiroKoizumi.

''We are happy to see China-Japan relations advancing forward,this is in tune with the interests of people of both countries, and ofAsia, and the world,'' Wen was quoted as telling Abe.

Debating Nuclear Plan

The two leaders were also to hold talks withSouth Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in their first trilateral meetingsince Abe took office last September.

The Philippines, which holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship, willask the three countries to work together to convince the reclusiveregime of Kim Jong-il to abandon its nuclear ambitions, which haveencouraged Tokyo to begin to debate whether to drop its own ban ondeveloping nuclear weapons.

''It may be tempting for Japan to consider becoming a nuclearweapon state, particularly after the nuclear test by DPRK (North Korea)last 9 October,'' Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will sayat ASEAN's meeting with Japan.

''But the possession of nuclear weapons by more countries in ourregion will only lead to greater risks, not less. North Korea's nuclearweapons programme therefore cannot be allowed to stand.''

During a prior meeting with Wen, Arroyo, who has offered thePhilippines as a venue for international talks with Pyongyang, praisedChina for its efforts to defuse the situation on the Korean peninsula,where officials fear a second nuclear test. ''As the rounds ofbilateral and trilateral talks in Beijing mark advances in mutualunderstanding, we must give credit to China for this breakthrough forpeace.''

Trade Pact with China

China and Southeast Asia agreed toliberalise trade in services such as telecoms, transport, IT andtourism, from July in a deal which Wen said marked ''a crucial stepforward'' towards the world's most populous free trade zone.

Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN rose by nearly a quarterto 161 billion dollars last year, Chinese figures show, and is set tohit 200 billion dollars by 2008.

Wen said ASEAN and Beijing would ''advance bilateral cooperationto an even higher level'' in the coming year and both sides wereworking on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, a source ofregional tension due to competing territorial claims.

Conscious of China's growing clout, Japan will also discussprogress on long-running free trade talks with ASEAN that both sideshope to seal later this year. Abe will also commit to aiding SoutheastAsia's counter-terrorist efforts.

ASEAN members have already agreed a pact that will clamp down onthe movement of militants within its borders and allow for easierextradition of suspected rebels between countries.

Trade will dominate the bloc's discussions with South Korea, Chinaand Japan, and a wider meeting including India, Australia and NewZealand tomorrow, when the 16 leaders will also foster closercooperation on energy issues with the signing of an energy securitypact.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- countries that spanthe political and economic spectrum.


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