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Cambodia, China Discuss South China Sea Tensions

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday assured his newly appointed Cambodian counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, Beijing respected freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, despite the issue fuelling friction with Washington.
 
Rising tensions in the oil-and-gas rich sea featured in their closed-door talks, along with strengthening bilateral relations and plans for reciprocal visits by Prime Minister Hun Sen and President Xi Jinping, they told a joint news conference afterwards.
 
“I also reminded His Excellency Wang Yi that Cambodia is with other ASEAN countries in paying special attention to regional peace, stability and security,” Mr. Sokhonn said.
 
He said Cambodia was committed to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed between ASEAN and China, which supports freedom of navigation and a peaceful resolution to territorial disputes.
 
“Cambodia also calls on all related parties … to resolve disputes through peaceful ways and negotiations,” he said.    
 
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and is reclaiming land and building military airstrips on reefs to bolster its case. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim part of the sea and its islands and reefs, through which about $5 trillion in world trade is shipped every year.
 
The US Navy’s recent freedom of navigation exercises – including sailing within disputed territorial waters claimed by China – have fuelled tensions between the two powers.
 
Mr. Wang said China’s land reclamation and patrols in the South China Sea did not breach international law.
 
“And we will not impose restrictions on freedom of navigation on the water as well,” he said, adding that some “great power countries” had seized on the South China Sea issue to provoke tensions and promote their own interests.
 
“These actions will not help regional stability and peace,” he said.
 
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is due to rule within weeks on a case brought by the Philippines against China’s competing territorial claims. But China says the court has no jurisdiction.
 
Mr. Wang he was delighted that Cambodia often supported Beijing’s positions on world affairs. China is at odds with several ASEAN members who accuse Beijing of illegitimately extending territorial claims in the South China Sea.
 
China is a major donor to Cambodia and its biggest source of foreign investment and Mr. Sokhonn said the two countries would work to strengthen trade and cooperation, working on everything from repairing ruined temples to education, tourism, health and mine clearance.
 

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