Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has reaffirmed Cambodia’s stance of taking no sides in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Asean foreign ministers meeting in the Philippines failed on Sunday to immediately release a joint statement on China’s expansion in disputed islands.
“The statement was issued one day late because we were still discussing the wording about technical and political matters,” Mr Sokhonn said.
“The Philippines wanted our joint communique to reflect the actual situation and positive developments which happened at the Asean meeting last year,” Mr Sokhonn said.
He said only Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippine and Brunei had disputes with China over the South China Sea and they were looking for peaceful resolutions.
Mr Sokhonn defended Cambodia against accusations it had supported China by blocking the use of stronger language against China in the joint statement.
It was said that Vietnam had been urging Asean to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansion.
“I reaffirm that Cambodia is an independent state with territorial sovereignty and neutrality that is not involved in demands over territorial conflicts,” Mr Sokhonn said.
“For the South China Sea, Cambodia’s stance is not to take the side of any party.”
Mr Sokhonn said Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had asked his foreign affairs minister to tell Asean foreign ministers that he wanted the communique “to reflect the actual situation”.
Some Asean ministers had not wanted land reclamation in the disputed islands to be mentioned in the communique.
The Philippines had wanted no mention of reclamation because there had been no change on the subject since the previous Asean meeting.
Mr Sokhonn questioned why land reclamation had been introduced in later drafts.
He read the first paragraph of the document: “We discussed extensively the matters related to the South China Sea,”
He said the next paragraph was important. It read: “And took note of the concern expressed by some ministers on the land reclamation and activity at the area”.
“So there were three issues that we agreed on the words land reclamation,” he said. The first was that ministers took note of the issue, the second was that they expressed concern, and the third that some ministers were able to express their views.
He said Singapore, Brunei and especially the Philippines had noticed positive developments in the South China Sea.
“We should not return to the gloominess. We’re going forward,” he said.
Mr. Sokhonn said Asean foreign ministers also raised the subject of tension over North Korea’s nuclear missile tests that was affecting security in the region.
Cambodia has asked North Korea to halt its testing, following the UN Security Council decision to tighten sanctions.
“We have asked all relevant parties, please be patient to avoid any activities that can make the situation more tense or cause war in the region,” Mr Sokhonn said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability said the South-China Sea remained a problem and joint statements on the disputed islands had also been a problem.