South Korea’s new foreign minister said on Saturday she was open to rare discussions with her North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of a security summit in the Philippines. “If there is an opportunity that naturally occurs, we should talk,” Kang Kyung-Wha told reporters as she landed in Manila today, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri Hong-Yo, is also attending the regional summit, which is hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The potential meetings come as the North faces intense international pressure to curtail its nuclear weapons programme.
The United Nations Security Council will vote this weekend on a US-drafted resolution to toughen sanctions against North Korea following its second intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 28. The United States said it would also seek to build unified pressure on the North at the Manila event, known as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is attending.
But the newly elected South Korean government of President Moon Jae-In is also much more open to negotiations than the previous administration run by Park Geun-Hye. Kang, South Korea’s first female foreign minister, said any meeting with Ri would be an opportunity “to deliver our desire for the North to stop its provocations and positively respond to our recent special offers (for talks) aimed at establishing a peace regime”.
In July Seoul proposed military talks with Pyongyang but the North refused to respond. Had they gone ahead, they would have been the first official inter-Korean talks since 2015. Tensions on the Korean peninsula often dominate the ARF because it is one of the few annual diplomatic gatherings attended by the key stakeholders: South Korea, North Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan.
In the run up to this year’s summit, Washington had lobbied to have Pyongyang kicked out of the ARF but there is limited appetite among Asian countries to shut North Korea out of one of the few diplomatic gatherings it attends. Washington is determined to ratchet up pressure on the North after a series of missile tests that Pyongyang has declared puts American cities within their reach.