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Diplomacy needed in North Korean dispute, says US commander on Asean goodwill trip

Nov 20. 2017
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NORTH KOREA remained a key security concern in the region for the United States 7th Fleet, but diplomacy was the only option to solve the problem, Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer said yesterday.

“A man in uniform is the last person who would rely on using force to solve the problem [of North Korea],” Sawyer told a group of journalist in Pattaya.

Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests are a major security threat to all nations, not only in the region but all over the world, he said.

The US 7th Fleet commander has been in Thailand since Saturday for the Asean International Fleet Review to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional group. The US guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney participated in the event yesterday together with 39 other ships from countries in the Indo-Pacific region including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and members of Asean.

The international fleet review, hosted by the Royal Thai Navy, fostered strong partnerships to ensure peace and stability in the region as well as cooperation among international naval fleets, Sawyer said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over a parade of 18 warships yesterday in Pattaya.

Prayut claimed that his government’s ability to keep the country “calm and peaceful” was why Thailand had been trusted to host the international parade. “They didn’t see conflicting movements on the roads, so they call came here,” he said.

Sawyer said the contentious issue of the South China Sea was also important for regional security, because the US and other countries needed freedom of navigation in passing through disputed areas.

Many Asean members have been at loggerheads with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea for years. Tension has risen since China and other claimants built artificial islands and facilities on reefs and shoals that could be used for military purposes.

The US is not a claimant in the contentious sea, but Sawyer said freedom of navigation in the disputed areas should be guaranteed. The commander called for all parties to respect standards and norms of practice in accordance with international laws, notably the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China, which is now increasing its naval power in the Indo-Pacific, could also play a significant role in guaranteeing freedom of navigation as well as norms of practice in the sea in accordance with international laws and Unclos, he said.

The US Navy has both cooperated and competed with the Chinese navy, but cooperation would be preferred to help maintain peace and stability in the region, he said.

The US Navy, notably the 7th Fleet which oversees the Indo-Pacific, wants to continue to engage and cooperate with partners in the region, including Asean and other countries, Sawyer said. He added that China was also welcome on board.

The US Navy conducts many joint exercises with Thailand, such as the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise, and wants to boost the Royal Thai Navy’s capacity.

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