Roundup: East Asian Leaders Speak at the 73rd UNGA
The 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly opened on Sept. 18, 2018, at UN headquarters in New York City. The headline general debate ran from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, with over 190 different speeches given by heads of state, foreign ministers, and organization leaders over six days. Below is a roundup of the statements — mainly focused on East Asian relations — made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for Japan, President Moon Jae-in for the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi for the People’s Republic of China.
Prime Minister Abe delivered his remarks near the end of the afternoon session of Sept. 25. He focused on three main issues: free trade, revitalization of relations with Russia and North Korea; and the need for UN Security Council reform. Recalling how Japan owes its post-war development to the “blessings of trade,” Abe stated that present-day Japan is on a mission to relay the benefits of free trade to the world.
With regards to Russia, Abe said that he is working together with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the World War Two-era territorial dispute with Russia. In his opinion, once a peace treaty comes into force between Russia and Japan, “peace and prosperity” in Northeast Asia would have a more solid foundation for future positive developments.
On North Korea, Abe pledged his readiness “to break the shell of distrust and get off to a new start” with Pyongyang to repatriate Japanese abducted by the North Korean regime. However, he made it clear that resolving the issues of abductees as well as North Korean missile and nuclear weapons possession would be non-negotiable terms for normalizing relations in the future.
He ended his speech by reiterating the need to reform the UN Security Council as the importance of the UN in the 21st century was increasingly coming into question. He pledged to work together with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to push forward with reforms.
President Moon Jae-in’s UNGA address, delivered in the middle of the morning session of Sept. 26, was centered on two main issues: North Korea and East Asia Railroad Community. Calling the developments on the Korean Peninsula in the past year as “something miraculous,” Moon cited several events as proof: the June 2018 US-DPRK summit in Singapore where both parties agreed to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; the DPRK’s dismantling of the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri; and the suspension of large-scale military exercises by the US and South Korea.
Referring to his third meeting with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un, Moon mentioned that Kim expressed a desire to expedite denuclearization and focus on economic development, with further commitments to permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile test site in a transparent fashion. Moon thanked the international community and the United Nations for the support and encouragement for peace talks while calling for further cooperation from the world to secure permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula.
On East Asian Railroad Community, Moon said that regional disputes within Northeast Asia are preventing the region from achieving broader cooperation. Citing the success of European Coal and Steel Community — a predecessor of the European Union — he noted the efforts by both governments in the Korean Peninsula to reconnect railroads and stated his belief that the proposed East Asian Railroad Community would “serve as a starting point for the creation of an energy and economic community in East Asia” that would lead to a “multilateral peace and security architecture in Northeast Asia.”
Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the People’s Republic of China, addressed the General Assembly early in the morning session of Sept. 28 focusing on three themes: multilateralism, shared peace, and development. Expressing China’s commitment to multilateralism, Wang highlighted four principles to uphold multilateralism in the face of growing challenges: pursuing “win-win cooperation” with other nations, acting upon “rules and order,” upholding “fairness and justice,” and acting to deliver “real results.”
On the issue of shared peace, Wang noted the developments in the Korean Peninsula. Supporting “all-out improvement of relations” between the two Korean governments, Wang reiterated China’s continued encouragement for North Korea to denuclearize while calling upon the US to make “timely and positive responses” to “truly meet the DPRK half way.”
As for the Iranian nuclear issue, Wang stated that continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is necessary. Failure to observe the JCPOA, per Wang’s statements, would undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, bring the authority of the Security Council into question, and jeopardize peace and stability in the region and the wider world.
In reference to development, Wang called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a “public good China offers to the world.” Defining the initiative as open, transparent, inclusive, and based on international rules and laws, Wang declared that by September 2018, over 130 countries and international organizations will have signed agreements with China regarding the BRI.
DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho addressed the General Assembly during the morning session on Sept. 29. His remarks focused mainly on domestic developments, the DPRK-US joint statement, and recent deadlock with the US over denuclearization.
On the domestic front, Ri mentioned Chairman Kim’s decision to concentrate all efforts on “socialist economic reconstruction” as the country has sufficient defense capability to respond to threats. He mentioned the need for a “peaceful environment” in order to achieve this transition.
In the context of efforts made by DPRK to attain peace on the Korean Peninsula, Ri praised Chairman Kim’s significant breakthrough in improving relations with Seoul and Washington. Referring to the DPRK-US joint statement adopted this past June, Ri declared that once the joint-statement is implemented, “durable peace and the complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula will be achieved, with the Peninsula becoming a “cradle of peace and prosperity that contributes to security in Asia and the rest of the world.”
Noting that ending mutual distrust is important to successfully implementing this joint statement, Ri referred to Pyongyang’s halting of nuclear tests and dismantling the nuclear test site as proof of the DPRK’s “unwavering” commitment to the joint statement. However, Ri expressed his government’s dissatisfaction with Washington over its insistence on “denuclearization-first,” continued pressure via sanctions, and its objection to a declaration of the end of the Korean War. Ri defiantly asserted the “perception that sanctions can bring us on our knees is a pipe-dream of the people who are ignorant about us.”
Lastly, RI urged the UN to “really” apply this year’s General Assembly session theme — “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: Global leadership and shared responsibilities” — to the UN’s “actual activities” in order to remove the stigma that the “UNSC equals US.”