Meeting in Malaysia Opportunity To Discuss Trade, North Korea

By Peggy B. Hu
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 28 will be an opportunity to make progress on a number of issues in Asia, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill says.

In remarks at the Washington Foreign Press Center July 21, Hill said the United States is interested in strengthening its relations with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.

The assistant secretary said the United States is working to establish trade and investment framework agreements (TIFAs) with ASEAN countries.  The Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, a program intended to support stability and development in Southeast Asia by offering the prospect of free-trade agreements (FTAs) between the United States and ASEAN countries that demonstrate commitment to economic reforms and openness, recommends the establishment of TIFAs as a first step in negotiating free-trade agreements.  (See fact sheet.)

The United States already has signed TIFAs with the governments of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.  The United States also has an FTA with Singapore and has held FTA negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand.

According to Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also is scheduled to sign a framework agreement implementing the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership during her visit to Kuala Lumpur.  The partnership is an initiative proposed by President Bush and leaders of the ASEAN nations at the November 2005 Economic Leaders' Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Busan, South Korea. (See related article.)


The ARF meeting in Kuala Lumpur could provide an opportunity for the participants in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear programs to meet informally, since representatives from all six countries - North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States - are scheduled to attend, Hill said.

"[A]ll the six parties are going to be in Kuala Lumpur, which is convenient to be sure, and we want to see what we can do to get this diplomatic process going again," he said.

Even if North Korea is reluctant to participate in the Six-Party Talks, the remaining five parties should continue to meet, Hill said.

"[F]or months and months now, the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea] has essentially boycotted the Six-Party process," he said. "[W]hat we need to do is to make sure that in boycotting the process they don't make the rest of us boycott the process."

The State Department official said all parties need to discuss how to implement the commitments made in their joint statement of September 19, 2005, as well as decide on arrangements for another round of Six-Party Talks. (See related article.)

"[W]e just cannot allow this just to drift on and on with no meetings because the North Koreans don't want to come to a meeting. So let's see what we can do to advance the process," he said.

Hill said the United States is "prepared to have as many bilateral meetings as the North Koreans can stand, provided they're in the Six-Party process."

Hill had briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 20 on North Korea. (See related article.)


In response to a question, Hill said Russia has a very important role to play in the Six-Party Talks and the implementation of the joint statement.

Russia has extensive experience ... with arms control, arms verification, with denuclearization," he said. "[T]here's a body of expertise that Russia has of people who know how ... to ensure that nuclear materials have been properly accounted for, that nuclear sites have been properly cleaned up."

"Russia has also an enormous experience as an energy producer, as an energy transmitter," he said.

Hill said that "what is important about the September statement is it's a holistic approach to the problem."

"It's not just denuclearization, it's also energy, it's economic support, it's reintegration of North Korea. So I think Russia will have an important role in this implementation," he said.

The transcript of Hill’s remarks is available on the State Department Web Site.

For more information on U.S. policies, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Trade and Economics.