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Thursday, December 07, 2006

ASEAN fears North Korea will spark East Asia nuclear race

CEBU, Philippines (AFP): North Korea's recent atomic test could spawn a dangerous nuclear arms race in East Asia, a Southeast Asian official said.

"The Korean Peninsula has always been on agenda of ASEAN," the senior foreign ministry official, who did not want to be named, told reporters late Wednesday, ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional summit next week.

"Since Southeast Asia has close interaction not only with (South) Korea but also with (North) Korea, anything that happens in the Korean Peninsula has a direct effect on the peace and stability of Southeast Asia."

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea are expected to hold a "trilateral" meeting on the sidelines of the gathering on Monday. All three countries are part of six-nation aimed at persuading North Korea against developing an atomic bomb.

"It behooves us to ensure, as early as practicable, that something will come out of the six party talks with a view to denuclearization.

"Otherwise this will create a nuclear arms race among three East Asian countries," the official said, mentioning North Korea's neighbours Japan, South Korea and nuclear-powered China.

Japan, in particular, "has the capability to be a nuclear power... they have the know-how," the official said.

China, Japan and South Korea are regular dialogue partners of ASEAN under the ASEAN Plus Three process.

ASEAN is also negotiating free trade pacts with its three giant neighbours, while North Korea is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which discusses security issues and has major powers the United States, the European Union and Russia among its other members.
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