Kerry in Laos amid Asean bickering

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VIENTIANE: America’s top diplomat John Kerry arrived Monday in Laos for a summit dominated by bickering between Southeast Asian nations over Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea and risking tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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He was expected to hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later in the day.

The US says it takes no position on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but argues for free sea and air passage through what it considers international waters.

It has also called on Beijing to accept the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in The Hague, which rejected Beijing’s claims to vast stretches of the sea.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are also likely high on the agenda for both China and the US.

Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by a series of ballistic missile tests including one last Tuesday.

In response Seoul announced plans to host a US missile defense system on its territory, sparking fury in Pyongyang and concern in Beijing.

North Korea’s newly minted Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho is attending the Laos gathering, a rare moment at which senior officials from Washington, Beijing and Pyongyang will be in the same room.

Earlier in the day, he met Wang for talks at the sidelines of the meeting.

Ri, a former nuclear negotiator and party princeling, is making his debut appearance at a major international gathering.

Washington has played down the likelihood of talks between the two countries during the summit.

But the summit would still give Kerry an opportunity to confront North Korea on its weapons program, a US official told reporters before Kerry’s visit.

AFP

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