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At ASEAN, Tillerson Presses Counterparts on North Korea

Rex Tillerson, right, U.S. Secretary of State, walks with Bobby Bell, the deputy administrator of the American Battlefield Memorial commission, during Tillerson's visit at the American cemetery in Taguig city, metro Manila, Philippines Aug. 6, 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has met separately in Manila with the foreign ministers of Myanmar, Japan and South Korea as he begins his first official trip to Southeast Asia.

The top U.S. diplomat is taking part in meetings with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum as he seeks to build pressure on North Korea.

On Sunday after meeting with South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, he called the new sanctions voted by the U.N. Security Council a “good outcome.” Kang also described the new round of sanctions on North Korea as “a very, very good outcome.”

Tillerson met later Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

South China Sea

The U.S. also is continuing to call for a legally binding mechanism to prevent conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea from erupting into violent confrontations.

Foreign ministers from the ASEAN are expected to endorse the framework of a code of conduct on the South China Sea when they meet with Chinese officials Sunday.

While the framework is not legally binding, it commits to cooperation over confrontation and is also seen as bending to China’s influence.

The U.S. will continue to press for a dispute resolution mechanism and upholding freedom of navigation.

Regional counterterrorism

Besides maritime security and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, regional counterterrorism is said to be also high on the ASEAN agenda.

To begin his visit to the Philippines, Tillerson laid a wreath Sunday at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial to pay tribute to the more than 17,000 U.S. and Philippine service men who died fighting as allies during World War II.