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Cambodia stays neutral in South China Sea dispute

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
A screenshot of the Informal Meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers via video conference. Facebook

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has reaffirmed Cambodia’s stance over the South China Sea dispute, saying as a non-claimant state the Kingdom would stay “neutral” with regard to the territorial dispute.

Speaking during the Informal Meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers via video conference on Wednesday, Mr Sokhonn hopes the concerned parties would conclude South China Sea code of conduct, according to a ministry statement released after the meeting.

China and a handful of Asean countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, have conflicting claims on the South China Sea. The code of conduct is to ensure territorial disputes with China will not lead to war.

“On the South China Sea issue, Cambodia, as a non-claimant state, wishes to stay neutral with regard to territorial dispute, and we hope all parties concerned will continue to maintain conducive environment for safeguarding peace, security and stability in the region, thus contributing to the conclusion of the COC negotiation,” the statement said.

The topic of recent developments in the South China Sea is expected to be discussed among regional leaders at the 36th Asean Summit, held under the theme “Cohesive and Responsive” via video conference on today due to COVID-19. The meeting will be chaired by Vietnam.

According to VnExpress News, the Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Nguyen Quoc Dung has said that Asean and China have yet to meet to discuss the COC due to the pandemic.

Mr Nguyen noted that at the last meeting in October last year in Da Lat, both sides agreed to prepare for the second round of reading of the draft document of the COC.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will participate in the Summit via video conference and will be accompanied by Mr Sokhonn, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak and Health Minister Mam Bun Heng along with a number of senior government officials.

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn attends the Informal Meeting of Asean Foreign Ministers via video conference. Facebook

In his previous meeting, Mr Hun Sen encouraged the development of important negotiations toward an early conclusion of the COC on the South China Sea,” Mr Hun Sen said, noting that Asean  in July last year finished the first COC draft.

“We emphasised the need to maintain an environment conducive to the COC negotiations and thus welcome practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation,” he said during Asean-China Summit in Bangkok last year. “We emphasised the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states.”

Chheang Vannarith, President of Asian Vision Institute (AVI), an independent think tank based in Cambodia, said yesterday Cambodia is on a “consistent” position over the ongoing dispute.

“Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea has been consistent, which is to urge all parties concerned to resolve their differences and disputes peacefully in accordance with international law including the 1982 [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],”

Mr Vannarith noted that it is a long-term, complex issue which requires the exercise of strategic patience, confidence-building measures and preventive diplomacy.

“Therefore, the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea is of utmost importance to maintain peace and stability in the region,” he said

“China-US power rivalry, which is being accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, has further complicated the security environment in the South China Sea and the whole region,” he added. “For a small state like Cambodia, we need to play footnote diplomacy and implement strategic ambiguity.”



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