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Economy

US, Japan, Australia urge ASEAN to 'maximize pressure' on North Korea

Also call for legally binding code of conduct in South China Sea

MANILA -- U.S., Japan and Australia on Monday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to exert more pressure on North Korea over its nuclear ambitions and to make sure a planned code of conduct for maritime disputes is legally binding.

In a statement after their meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned "in the strongest terms" North Korea's nuclear weapons program, including its launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. They also welcomed the United Nation Security Council's move on Aug. 5 to ban certain exports from North Korea.

"The ministers also urged ASEAN member states to maximize pressure on North Korea," the statement said.

ASEAN on Saturday expressed "grave concern" over the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including Pyongyang's missile tests. The association's statement however implied that North Korea should remain in the regional forum, effectively rejecting Washington's call to isolate Pyongyang.

The three ministers also urged ASEAN and China to come up with a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea to make sure that violators face sanctions.

"The ministers further urged ASEAN member states and China to ensure that the code of conduct be finalized in a timely manner, and that it be legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law," the statement said.

China and ASEAN member states have overlapping territorial claims in the strategic waterway. On Sunday, ministers from China and 10-nation bloc adopted a framework for the code, which aimed at preventing conflict in the area. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said negotiation on the code's provisions could start by November, as long as the environment is stable and there is "no major disruption from outside parties."

"The ministers called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal's 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties," the statement said.

Beijing has refused to recognize the Philippines' landmark arbitration case, which ruled that China has no legal basis for its expansive ownership claims in the South China Sea. The new Philippine government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has opted to put the ruling aside in favor of billions of dollars in economic deals with China.

The three ministers' speeches at the regional forum meeting Monday night will likely reflect their statement. The meeting is expected to be attended by 14 other ASEAN dialogue partners, including China, Russia and North Korea.

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