November 14, 2017 6:21 pm JST  (Updated November 15, 2017 12:11 am JST)

East Asia Summit sends message to North Korea -- without Trump

Secretary of State Tillerson replaces president, China and Russia in attendance

SHOTARO TANI, Nikkei staff writer

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in the East Asia Summit in Manila, Philippines on Nov. 14, 2017. © Reuters

MANILA -- Leaders from 18 countries met in the Philippine capital for the East Asia Summit on Tuesday, with concerns about continued provocations by North Korea a key area of discussion. But the meeting was underscored by the absence of U.S. President Donald Trump, as he left the Philippine capital due to what is believed to be time constraints.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who chaired the summit, told reporters that "almost every leader" mentioned North Korea in their speeches. "The dark clouds are there. We better pray," he said, describing the situation in the Korean Peninsula as a "crisis looming ahead."

Retno Marsudi, Indonesia's foreign minister who was present at the meeting, revealed that member states "condemned North Korea's ongoing development" of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, and said that their nuclear tests were "a threat to the region's peace and stability."

The draft chairman's statement said leaders from all 18 nations "strongly urged" North Korea to "immediately and fully comply with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions" and for the country to "abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."

This goes a step further than the previous chairman's statement, released in September last year, that only went so far as to "share serious concern over the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula." North Korea carried out its fifth nuclear test a day after that statement was released.

"I was able to share with the leaders an unprecedented sense of crisis at the [summit]," Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at a press conference late on Tuesday.

The East Asia Summit brought together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, the U.S. and Russia. With prime ministers in attendance from both China and Russia, both with ties to Pyongyang, the summit provided an ideal opportunity for a display of unity.

But that hope was dented by Trump, who failed to show up despite earlier prolonging his stay in Manila in order to attend. The summit was held approximately two hours later than scheduled, which is believed to have led to Trump's absence. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took his place instead.

The issue of North Korea featured prominently during Trump's visits to Japan, South Korea and China, but his stops in Danang, Vietnam and Manila had focused more on pushing for "reciprocal" trade relations with Asian countries.

"Just arrived at #ASEAN50 in the Philippines for my final stop with World Leaders. Will lead to FAIR TRADE DEALS, unlike the horror shows from past Administrations," Trump had tweeted upon his arrival in Manila.

Although Trump said he had delivered his prepared remarks during the leaders' lunch, his absence from the summit, where North Korea was always going to feature prominently, will raise questions about his commitment to the issue.

Nikkei staff writer Cliff Venzon contributed to this article.

Do you live in Asia? How do you feel about Trump visiting the region?

  • Do you believe Trump can make Asia more secure? 
  • Who will be the strongest political force in East Asia in 2030? The U.S.? China? Another power?
  • Is the U.S. an indispensable economic partner, or should Asia become more self-sufficient?

Email your answers to: nar01@nex.nikkei.co.jp

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