Tillerson Meets ASEAN Ministers to Seek Support on North Korea

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Speaking at a US-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Washington on May 4, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested that ASEAN take "appropriate actions to fully implement all of the [UN] Security Council resolutions" on North Korea, a State Department official reported on May 5.

Reports said all ASEAN members have diplomatic relations with North Korea and five have embassies there.

While human rights concerns hampered former President Barack Obama's engagement with Southeast Asia, Tillerson signaled a shifting approach Wednesday, saying that the USA can't always afford to condition its foreign relationships on other governments sharing American values.

"If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we've come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests", he said.

"That's probably something we'll look at", Manalo told reporters.

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Senior State Department official Patrick Murphy, in a media briefing, said Tillerson spent considerable time with the Asean ministers on South China Sea.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Asean states and the US "affirmed the importance of the Asean-US Strategic Partnership in maintaining regional peace and stability. and agreed to further strengthen relations". He said China has an "important role" to play, and ASEAN has not yet discussed reducing the North Korean diplomatic presence in their countries.

But he acknowledged widespread unease about the forthcoming changes and pledged that diplomats would emerge from the department's changes with "a much more satisfying, fulfilling career". The top US diplomat also called on the worldwide community to fully implement existing United Nations sanctions against North Korea and sent a very strong message to the North Korean regime.

Considering the vast majority of North Korea's trade is with China, its long-time ally, these secondary sanctions would most likely be on Chinese firms.

US efforts have included a flurry of calls by President Donald Trump at the weekend to the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

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"To increase the DoD budget and decrease the State Department budget which, specific programs aside, the message that that sends is the USA will be engaging with the world with its military and not with its traditional diplomatic corps", Prasow said.

This stance coincided with moves by China and ASEAN to draft a framework to negotiate a code of conduct.

On the South China Sea, ASEAN has adopted a cautious approach recently toward China, with a weekend summit of its leaders avoiding references to Beijing's building and arming of islands there. But he asked US diplomats and civil servants to be "creative" in recommending changes to the organizational structure and work rules in an online employee survey that went up Wednesday to gather suggestions on how to fulfill the State Department mission.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation operations to challenge South China Sea claims, angering China, but not yet under Trump.

He said the USA would continue to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and unhindered commerce.

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