Eyes on Koreas as Southeast Asian leaders hold summit

SINGAPORE — Southeast Asian leaders will discuss economic cooperation and Myanmar's refugee crisis at a summit in Singapore, but much of their attention will be focused on the history unfolding on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in Singapore on Friday to affirm a common vision amid happenings beyond their 10-member group.

"We do so at a momentous time in the world, many things are happening both within and beyond ASEAN," Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in an opening address. "I think it's all the more important that we remain united, that we project a common purpose."

It was a clear reference to Friday's landmark meeting between North Korea's Kim Jong Un and South Korea's Moon Jae-In. ASEAN has long advocated for dialogue and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Southeast Asian nations have been wary of the North's nuclear program and the tensions it sparked, but continue to hosts its embassies and welcome its presence at a regional forum.

"In the past, ASEAN member states have provided good offices for talks, and the budding rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang is a welcome development," said Tang Siew Mun, head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

There has been speculation that a meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming weeks could possibly be held in Southeast Asia. Thailand has offered to host the meeting and South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo reported that Singapore is on the shortlist of locations.

At a working dinner with Southeast Asian leaders on Friday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ASEAN needs to grow more resilient to tackle cross-boundary threats such as terrorism, climate change and cybersecurity.

"We do not expect to resolve all the issues within the one-year span of our chairmanship, but we do hope to prompt a productive discussion and develop a consensus among the ASEAN partners on the overall approach," he added.

The leaders will gather Saturday for a retreat, where analysts said they are expected to discuss free trade and Myanmar's refugee crisis. The South China sea, where the bloc is currently negotiating a code of conduct with China, is likely to be less prominent.

In addition to Singapore, the ASEAN members are Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.

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