US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to press China to rein in North Korea after Pyongyang announced a recent nuclear test and urge Southeast Asia to show unity in response to Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
Kerry began a three-nation hop across Asia with a three-day trip to Laos, this year’s host of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He will head to Cambodia on Monday night and then on to Beijing for talks on Wednesday with the leadership there, Reuters reports.
In Beijing, Kerry is expected to stress the need for a united front in response to this month’s North Korean nuclear test through additional UN sanctions, a senior official of the State Department said.
He will also argue for a tough unilateral response from China, North Korea’s main ally and neighbor.
“It is very important to present a united front … but that united front has to be a firm one, not a flaccid one,” the official told journalists traveling with Kerry.
North Korea said on Jan. 6 it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, although Washington voiced skepticism as to whether the device was actually that powerful.
“Despite the determination and efforts of the Chinese government, clearly there is more that they can do.”
In Beijing Kerry plans “in depth” discussions on the South China Sea, a source of increasing tension between China and ASEAN countries and the United States due to China’s building of artificial islands suitable for use as military bases, the official said.
In Vientiane, the capital of Laos, Kerry will seek to bolster ASEAN unity and the bloc’s resolve to stand up to China in the lead-up to a summit President Barack Obama has called with the bloc’s leaders for Feb. 15-16 in Sunnylands, California.
Laos has close political and economic ties with China.
The Obama administration worries that it might behave as Cambodia did when it held the ASEAN chair in 2012 and was accused of obstructing consensus in the bloc over the South China Sea.
Besides its China ties, as a landlocked country Laos has less interest in the maritime disputes that several ASEAN members have with Beijing.
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