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Tillerson urges Asean to do more to cut N. Korea funding

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N. Korea, South China Sea the focus at US Secretary of State's first ministerial meeting with Asean members

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Asean foreign ministers on Thursday to do more to help cut funding streams for North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and to minimise diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

In his first ministerial meeting with all 10 Asean members, Mr Tillerson also called on nations with competing claims in the South China Sea to cease all island-building and militarisation while talks aimed at creating a maritime code of conduct were under way.

Mr Patrick Murphy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Mr Tillerson stressed Washington's security and economic commitment to the region amid doubts raised by US President Donald Trump's "America First" platform and withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, Reuters reported.

Mr Tillerson called on Asean countries to fully implement United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US, and to show a united front on the issue, Mr Murphy said.

"We think more can be done, not just in South-east Asia," he told reporters.

"We are encouraging continued and further steps across all of Asean."

Last week, Mr Tillerson called on all countries to suspend or downgrade diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, saying that North Korea abuses diplomatic privileges to help fund its arms programmes.

He also warned that Washington would sanction foreign firms and people conducting business with North Korea if countries did not act themselves.

On the issue of the South China Sea, Asean has recently adopted a cautious approach.

Meanwhile, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan rejected speculation that Asean was caving in to China over the South China Sea, telling the National Public Radio during an interview yesterday that it is more important to "have light rather than generate heat" on the issue.

Asked about the possibility of China filling a "vacuum" left by the US's withdrawal from the TPP, he said the economic logic for relating with South-east Asia was powerful, and "we hope that in some fashion the US will continue this journey of building economic ties with us", The Straits Times reported.

The US withdrawal had been disappointing, he said.

But Asean as a vibrant market with a young population is building economic bridges across the globe, he said.

Mr Balakrishnan was speaking the day after the meeting with Mr Tillerson along with other Asean foreign ministers.

aseanunited statesSouth China Sea