BANGKOK, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in formally asked the ASEAN member states Monday for their continued support of the slow-moving Korea peace process, saying North Korea and the United States are bracing for the most critical point in their related negotiations.
Moon was speaking at the end of the 22nd ASEAN Plus Three summit in Bangkok, Thailand, joined by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Just ahead of the session, Moon spoke separately with Abe for 11 minutes in a "very friendly and serious" mood, according to Cheong Wa Dae. It marked their first official one-on-one conversation since their New York talks held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September last year.
On the regional peace efforts, Moon said there has been a lot of progress thanks to ASEAN's support and cooperation.
"But it's not easy to resolve longtime confrontation and hostility," he said. "Fortunately, trust persists between the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. and there's no change in their commitment to continued dialogue."
Working-level talks and a third summit between the two sides will be the "most critical moment" in the whole process toward the denuclearization of Korea and lasting peace, Moon said.
Once permanent peace is established, South Korea will contribute to peace and stability in both Northeast and Southeast Asia as a "bridge" linking continents and oceans, he added.
"The international community's support and cooperation is more needed than any other time," the president stressed.
Speaking at the outset of the annual APT forum, Moon raised the problem of protectionism and called for a concerted effort to safeguard free trade.
He recalled the birth of the APT gathering in December 1997, when Asia was hit by a financial crisis.
The ASEAN and the Northeast Asian powers were united to weather the crunch and created a "robust economic bloc" that now accounts for 30 percent of the world economy, Moon pointed out.
"Twenty years later, the wind of 'protectionism' is violent again," he said.
The president also expressed hope for an agreement in ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations.
If signed, he added, it will contribute not only to the expansion of free trade and investment in the region but also to peace and co-prosperity in East Asia.
The RCEP talks began in 2012 between the ASEAN bloc and its dialogue partners: South Korea, China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. They cover nearly half of the global economy.
In the closing statement, meanwhile, he also cited "supranational" challenges facing Asia, such as terrorism, climate change and disaster.
"The ASEAN Plus Three should exert leadership over issues, which are hard to resolve independently by a country," Moon said.
The ASEAN bloc has mapped out the APT Cooperation Work Plan 2018-2022, and South Korea has also taken part in the initiative.
Moon said South Korea will have a chance to follow up on related consultations with ASEAN in a special bilateral summit to take place in Busan later this month.
Moon and Abe had shunned formal one-on-one dialogue amid soured ties between the neighboring countries. In early July, Tokyo launched a retaliatory trade control against Seoul over a dispute dating back to Japan's 1910-45 colonization of Korea.
In the afternoon, Moon is scheduled to attend the East Asian Summit session involving the ASEAN members, South Korea, Japan, China, the United States, Russia, Australia, India and New Zealand. It was first held in 2005.
He plans to request backing for his offer, made in his United Nations speech in September, to turn the Demilitarized Zone into an international peace zone.
A separate RCEP summit will be held later in the day, with the host, Thailand, pushing for a provisional deal. But the formal signing of an accord has been reportedly delayed until early next year.