South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong (Yonhap)
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong will attend a series of virtual talks led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week, with all eyes on whether North Korea will attend one of the meetings.
Chung plans to take part in four virtual meetings from Tuesday through Friday, including the South Korea-ASEAN meeting, the ASEAN Plus Three meeting that also involves China and Japan, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This year’s meetings will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chung will use the sessions to strengthen cooperation with Southeast Asian countries under Seoul’s signature New Southern Policy and discuss responses against the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The minister will also muster regional support for Seoul’s efforts for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of permanent peace.
The crisis in Myanmar and South China Sea disputes are expected to top the agenda at the weeklong meetings.
On Friday, Chung is to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, the largest security conference in the Asia-Pacific region that brings together the top envoys from 27 countries, including the US, China, Russia and Japan. It remains unknown whether Pyongyang will attend this year’s summit, which is one of the very few multilateral forums attended by North Korea almost every year.
Last year, An Kwang-il, North Korean ambassador to Indonesia, attended the session instead of Foreign Minister Ri Son-kwon.
As this year will be Seoul’s last participation at the ASEAN gatherings before President Moon Jae-in’s term completes next May, Chung is expected to reiterate support from the international community to move the stalled peace process on the Korean Peninsula forward.
“We hope the ASEAN countries will welcome and openly support the recent developments (in inter-Korean relations), including the restored communication channels between the two Koreas,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Last week, the two Koreas restored their communication channels 13 months after Pyongyang unilaterally severed them last year in frustration over what it called Seoul’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North attached to balloons. Seoul is pinning hope that the restored hotlines could give a way to a thaw in strained cross-border relations, which have remained chilled since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com