This year’s ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Vientiane, Laos ended on July 26 without any chairman’s statement. This is because the forum had to deal with so many issues, ranging from the South China Sea and North Korean nuclear issues to those related to the deployment of the terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) system in the Korean Peninsula.
China, uncomfortable with the missile defense system issue, showed gestures of appeasement to North Korea at the forum and this caused South Korean participants to get into trouble. North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho criticized the South as not being ready for dialogue. “Weakening or lifting of the sanctions on the North that is attributable to the deployment of the missile defense system and the resultant deterioration of the bilateral relations between Seoul and Beijing and between Washington and Beijing would be against the national interests of South Korea and the United States alike,” said Jung Sung-jang, head of the Department of Unification Strategy Studies of the Sejong Institute.
With regard to the South China Sea issue, in the meantime, the participating countries were busy trying to choose a side and figure out how to maximize their national interests by standing on the side of the U.S. or China.
The chairman’s statement of the ARF, which is adopted based on the opinions of the 27 ARF member countries including ASEAN members and those involved in the six-party talks, covers all the major issues in the region. This year, it was supposed to be finalized by the host country after the opinions are collected, reviewed and modified. It is said that China attempted to reflect the THAAD issue in the statement immediately before the closing of the forum and the U.S. and South Korea were opposed to the attempt.