On July 2nd, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participated in the 20th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) along with Foreign Ministers and Senior Officials from 27 countries in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam.
Secretary Kerry emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific, and made clear that we will continue to strengthen the ability of multilateral institutions to tackle shared challenges -- including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, non-proliferation, and improving maritime and cyber security.
During the ARF retreat, Secretary Kerry stated that, as a Pacific nation and a resident power, the United States has a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims over land features, but we have a strong and long-standing interest in the manner in which disputes in the South China Sea are addressed and in the conduct of the parties.
Secretary Kerry expressed concern about the increase over the past year in maritime incidents, actions, and tensions in disputed waters that have been matched by heightened rhetoric -- events that are inconsistent with commitments under the 2002 Declaration of Conduct. Secretary Kerry called on all parties to stop using coercion or other provocative actions to advance claims in the South China Sea. Such activities undermine regional stability, threaten the prospects for diplomacy, and raise the risks of conflict. The United States strongly encourages all parties to explore the use of diplomatic, peaceful means to manage and resolve disagreements in the South China Sea. That includes the use of legal mechanisms, including arbitration. In a rules based system, states should be able to seek peaceful means of dispute resolution without fear of retribution.
Secretary Kerry noted that, more than ten years after the adoption of the Declaration of Conduct, there has been little tangible progress until this week. He expressed the hope that this progress - the announcement of official consultations between ASEAN and China, to take place later this year - is not just a one-time, pre-ministerial meeting event. Secretary Kerry stressed the need for adopting a Code of Conduct now, and encouraged all parties to quickly move towards substantive talks.
Secretary Kerry also discussed North Korea and made clear that, over the last year, North Korea has engaged in a series of provocations that undermined regional stability and the global nonproliferation regime. He underscored that it is wrong for North Korea to claim its actions are a response to the United States. The United States has a single intent with regard to North Korea - peace, security and stability, which is the shared position of our Six-Party partners.
Secretary Kerry remarked that if North Korea takes steps to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose, the U.S. is ready to engage in credible negotiations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. The United States remains united with our international partners in calling on North Korea to live up to its commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks and with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions to abandon its nuclear program and its nuclear weapons in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.
North Korea and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, if unchecked, could provoke a destabilizing global arms race. They should understand that no country’s security is made better through the effort to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea should not miss yet another opportunity to obtain peaceful relations and the cooperation of the United States and international community in assisting its economic development.
The United States remains deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people, and we urge North Korea to cooperate with the UN Commission of Inquiry, including by granting access to the country to evaluate human rights conditions on the ground.
Secretary Kerry raised the issue of cyber security, noting that there is growing international concern about the risk of conflict that could result from countries’ actions in cyber space, including mistaken attribution and misinterpretation of countries’ activities. As the UN Group of Governmental Experts concluded last month, international law and the UN charter are applicable to state actions in cyber space, states are responsible for wrongful actions attributable to them, and practical confidence-building measures are essential to reducing risk.