Malaysian prime minister stresses need to loosen sanctions on North Korea

ASEAN: related summits have been taking place in Singapore since Nov. 14. Among the 16 heads of state there, one is drawing particular notice despite not being the leader of a major power like the US, Japan, China, or Russia.

Mahathir Mohamad returned to politics as Prime Minister of Malaysia last May at the age of 93. First rising from Deputy Prime Minister to Prime Minister in 1978, Mahathir served in the position until his 2003 retirement from politics. This year he returned to that position. In South Korean terms, his period as head of state stretched from the Park Chung-hee era to the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Attending his first ASEAN summit since returning to politics, the veteran statesman is now drawing attention with repeated statements stressing the need to loosen sanctions against North Korea.

Mahathir began his calls for looser international sanctions at the East Asia Summit on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The only way to hasten peaceful denuclearization, he explained, would be if some “reward” such as the loosening of sanctions were to be provided in exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization measures since its summit with the US on June 12.

Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyum shared some of Mahathir’s remarks in a published briefing on Nov. 15. The Malaysian Prime Minister was reported to have devoted a substantial part of his East Asian Summit (EAS) speech that day to Korean Peninsula issues.

“An agreement was reached at the North Korea-US summit, and North Korea is working to honor that agreement, but corresponding measures have not been forthcoming,” Mahathir said.

“North Korea will not be able to reduce its military strength to zero. In that case, it would not be able to defend himself if the other side failed to honor its part of the agreement,” he added.

“Rewards must be offered to North Korea, and that means reducing some of the sanctions. If that happens, the North will be encouraged and adopt complete reduction measures,” he predicted.

“We need to encourage the North if we can observe its commitment to honoring the agreement,” Mahathir continued.

“Right now, we are seeing a real reduction in tensions within the region. We can sense how tensions have decreased since the North Korea-US summit,” he said.

Mahathir shared a similar message at a South Korea-ASEAN summit the day before.

“South Korea senses how North Korea has changed its stance and is forming a good relationship and building friendship with the North in recognition of that sincerity,” he said.

“While North Korea may not be able to abandon all of its military capabilities overnight, we are not going to see any more of the provocative behavior that we did in the past. The past military tensions on the Korean Peninsula will disappear,” he predicted.

Mahathir went on to say that he “used to think that if a second Pacific War (Third World War) ever erupted, it would originate on the Korean Peninsula, but all that has changed.”

“I wish to express my sincere congratulations and respect to President Moon Jae-in for ushering in these changes. South Korea is a becoming a model for us all,” he continued.

Returning to summit diplomacy after 15 years, Mahathir expressed his desire to “learn South Korea’s secret to growth,” Kim Eui-kyum reported.

“Korea was once seen as Asia’s ‘hermit kingdom,’ but it has grown to become a high-tech country that is leading the pack in terms of Asian economic development,” he was quoted as saying.

“I want to learn many things from South Korea, using that as a basis for Malaysia to also achieve advancement.”

Meanwhile, the leaders of South Korea and the ten ASEAN countries adopted a 16-point chairman’s statement at the 20th South Korean-ASEAN summit the day before expressing their welcome of the inter-Korean and North Korea-US summits and calling for swift implementation of the terms agreed upon there.

In the statement, the leaders called for ongoing efforts to achieve permanent peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and urged North Korea to honor its pledge of complete denuclearization.

Source: Hankyoreh