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Asia Leaders Likely to Quietly Discuss North Korea Nukes at Summits

A screen displays the APEC logo on the National Stadium during a lights-and-fireworks rehearsal for the upcoming APEC Summit in Beijing, Nov. 4, 2014.
A screen displays the APEC logo on the National Stadium during a lights-and-fireworks rehearsal for the upcoming APEC Summit in Beijing, Nov. 4, 2014.

North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons may not be on the official agenda of either the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum or the East Asia Summit, but the topic will almost certainly be addressed behind the scenes when attending world leaders meet on the sidelines.

APEC’s 21 members including the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea will meet November 10 in Beijing. Following that, the East Asia Summit, hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, will be held in Myanmar.

North Korea is not a member of either organization, but Kim Han-kwon, the director of regional studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said the North’s nuclear weapons program will surely be addressed at these summits.

East Asia issue

Kim said the issue of North Korea is not just a topic for the Korean peninsula and the East Asia, but it is a topic that can bring a big change in the security system of Asia Pacific, so related countries will have discussions either officially or unofficially at the meetings.

The discussions could have added urgency with media reports out of South Korea this week, alleging that the North has started a new uranium enrichment plant at its main nuclear facility.

North Korea is believed to have made advances in trying to build an atomic bomb, but is still believed to be working to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount on a delivery system.

In recent years, some analysts have thought the North Korean nuclear issue would be an area where Washington and Beijing could cooperate to reduce tensions.

China reportedly has grown frustrated with its ally after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test in 2013 in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said China has been helpful by reducing jet fuel exports and other trade to North Korea to pressure Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.

But Beijing has also been reluctant to support strong sanctions that could threaten stability in North Korea.

Six-party talks

China would like to restart six-party talks that brought together representatives from China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. to work on ending North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for increased aid and assistance.

Those talks officially ended in 2009 after North Korea declared it would continue to pursue the development of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. said it wants North Korea to stop its nuclear activities before it will enter into talks about increasing aid and assistance.

Kim said he does not expect next week’s China -U.S. meeting in Beijing to result in any immediate progress.

He said even if China and the United States agree, more time is needed for resumption of the six-party talks.

Obama is also scheduled to meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Myanmar.

They will likely discuss the recent mixed signals coming from North Korea. Pyongyang has at times indicated an openness toward restarting talks, but still carries hostile rhetoric toward both Seoul and Washington.

The two leaders will also likely discuss last month’s agreement to extend the U.S. military presence in South Korea.