PM Refuses Joint Asean Stance

Cheang Sokha / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that Cambodia will not join other Asean nations in supporting an upcoming verdict from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in a suit filed by the Philippines about continuing issues with China over the South China Sea.
 
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier said that regardless of the court’s decision, Cambodia would not accept or abide by it due to its political nature. The issue needs to be settled legally and not politically, Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd.  
 
Last month, he said, a diplomat from a country outside Asean came to lobby members of the regional bloc to unify and support whichever side the Permanent Court ruled in favor of. The prime minister claimed the diplomat wanted “one voice” in support of the verdict.
 
“Since the court has not issued the verdict and they have already had contact with the court, it is unjust. It is politics against China,” he said. “I would like to affirm the stance of Cambodia that we will not issue any joint statement in support of the verdict.   
 
“It is a dispute that the Philippines filed a complaint against China for, so let the Philippines and China resolve it. Why do they need the support from Asean?” he asked.
 
He went on to slam diplomats for meddling in the issue, claiming their push to gain support for the ruling before it was released was evidence that they already knew the outcome.
 
“So I would like to ask, if you already know that the court will decide in the Philippines’ favor, it is not legal but solely political, and I do not support it at all,” he said. “It means they already have contact with the court, so it is not about the law but about politics.”
 
Mr. Hun Sen angrily denounced any attempt to use Cambodia as a wedge against China, repeating his earlier hope that the issue is dealt with between the relevant countries only.  
 
“Cambodia would like to firm its stance. Cambodia will not be a puppet for anyone. Cambodia is a small and poor country, but it is not ignorant of foreign policy. Cambodia supporting whoever is only the stance of Cambodia,” he added.
 
The remarks come only one day after reports surfaced that Cambodian diplomats helped scrap a planned joint statement from Asean members expressing concern over China’s conduct in the South China Sea.
 
China claims almost all of the sea as its own, but other coastal nations – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – have also made claims to pieces of it. Yet despite fierce protests from the four nations and the United States, China has unilaterally started construction on atolls throughout the sea, beefing up its military presence and building bases on previously uninhabited islands.
 
The region has some of the highest shipping traffic in the world, with billions of dollars worth of goods flowing through the sea yearly.
 
The United States has used the opportunity to forge closer ties with Vietnam and has vowed to defend the “open sea” rights of all nations.
 
Asean members issued a joint statement, according to the Associated Press, after their two-day meeting in Kunming, China, with Chinese diplomats. The statement, which was critical of China, was quickly retracted and a number of countries, including Cambodia, said they would release their own statements in support of China’s view, which is that the issue should be dealt with bilaterally and without international intervention.
 
Cambodia has long been criticized by other Asean nations for its closeness to China and lack of support in their efforts to stop China’s construction in the South China Sea. Cambodia came under a firestorm of criticism in 2012 when it helped shelve a similar statement from Asean diplomats condemning Chinese actions in the increasingly-contested sea.
 
“Asean has no right to demarcate land for you. You divide the land by yourself,” Mr. Hun Sen told the audience yesterday. “They will say Cambodia is not united with Asean, but I would like to ask back, when the Philippines filed a complaint against China, did they ask Asean?”
 
He compared the situation to Cambodia’s dispute with Thailand, saying he did not ask any Asean members for assistance.
 
“When Cambodia had a dispute with Thailand, I did not ask Asean to support the decision of The Hague Court. Don’t pour fuel on a fire,” he said. “They accuse Cambodia of destroying the Asean meeting in relation to the South China Sea. Don’t blame Cambodia. Just clarify and firm your officials’ stance.”
 
Chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies Chheang Vannarith supported Mr. Hun Sen’s statements, telling Khmer Times that the Asean regional bloc did not have the power to force every member to agree.
 
“Cambodia has been consistent in its approach towards the South China Sea disputes: that the disputes need to be resolved by the claimant states,” he said. “Asean does not have a mandate to interfere into territorial disputes between its member states or between its member states and other states.”

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