Our Head of ASEAN Studies Program, A Ibrahim Almuttaqi was quoted in The Jakarta Post's on 'Shadow of Kim Jong-un hangs over Busan'. Read below for the full article:

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan over the weekend to attend the ASEAN-South Korea Commemorative Summit, a special meeting that looks increasingly likely to be overshadowed by strained ties on the Korean Peninsula. During the two-day summit, which begins Monday and commemorates 30 years of South Korea's dialogue partnership with ASEAN, Jokowi is set to participate in three high-level dialogue sessions, one of which will be a special lunch retreat on Korean Peninsula issues, according to a Foreign Ministry statement issued on Sunday.

The retreat format allows leaders to converse candidly on matters of shared importance behind closed doors, but they will do so without the involvement of one key player: Kim Jong-un.

Last week, the North Korean leader turned down an invitation by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to participate as an observer in the regional summit, with the North's official KCNA news agency saying there was no reason for Kim to visit the South under a "beclouded air".

"Not content with sustaining losses from dependence on the United States, the south side made an offer for discussing the north-south relations in the theater of multilateral cooperation. This makes us only dubious," it was quoted by Reuters as saying.

President Jokowi first floated the idea of inviting Kim to the Busan summit in 2018, but Jakarta did not follow up the suggestion with any meaningful action.

ASEAN, despite having two of its member states host two separate summits between US President Donald Trump and Kim, has yet to fully embrace the mediating role that South Korea's Moon expects it to hold. Privately, some countries even held reservations against turning the Busan summit into another Kim spectacle.

International peace and security expert Muhadi Sugiono suggested that trust-building was key to ending the conflict. "Kim Jongun's refusal to attend the summit shows his distrust toward ASEAN, and it is possible because he views ASEAN as being closer to the US and South Korea," he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

The two Koreas themselves undertook a flurry of diplomacy including three summits last year, during which Moon and Kim agreed to improve ties and restart stalled business initiatives.

But there has been no significant progress amid tightening sanctions aimed at the North's nuclear and missile programs, and stalled denuclearization talks after Kim's failed second summit with President Trump.

Pyongyang has stepped up criticism of Seoul and Washington in recent months for their joint military drills and the South's purchase of US weapons designed to fend off North Korean threats.

For Muhadi, who is part of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), ASEAN's resolve in the denuclearization agenda is far from firm.

"Although ASEAN has signed the ZOPFAN [Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality], not all of the members agree on nuclear prohibition," said the Gadjah Mada University lecturer, pointing to the United Nations vote on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017, when Singapore was the only ASEAN member to abstain. "I think it is difficult [for North Korea] to see ASEAN as being able to play a role."

Meanwhile, other experts believe that Monday's summit should not even be at all about North Korea. The Habibie Center's ASEAN expert, Ibrahim Almuttaqi, said he preferred to see the summit focus more on ASEAN-South Korea relations rather than be distracted by any appearance by the North Korean leader.

"As we know, this issue is of grave concern for the Indo-Pacific region and ASEAN has made efforts to act as a mediator between relevant parties and to encourage all sides to pursue peaceful means to resolve their dispute," he told the Post on Sunday.

"However, such an effort should be appropriate to the level of sincerity from others."

[This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on 25th November 2019 and can be found at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/11/25/shadow-kim-jong-un-hangs-over-busan.html]

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