CPP Backs PM on South China Sea

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The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) said yesterday it fully supports Prime Minister Hun Sen’s backing of China in the dispute over control of the South China Sea.
The statement released on Wednesday echoed many of the comments the premier made in a speech last week, touting Cambodia’s status as an “independent state” and saying “as a member state of Asean, Cambodia respects the principles of internal non-interference, the principles of consensus…and the use of Asean as a diplomatic path for regional and international cooperation.”
The party, which is headed by Mr. Hun Sen, reiterated his decision not to issue any statement supporting an upcoming verdict on the issue by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. The Philippines has asked the court to weigh in on China’s continued construction and military presence in the sea, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.
Billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise passes through it each year and multiple countries have staked a claim to pieces of it, including Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.
Mr. Hun Sen and Cambodia have come under harsh criticism in recent years for failing to support their fellow Asean members, going so far as to shelve statements from the bloc twice which would have rebuked Chinese actions in the sea. Last week, after a meeting with other Asean leaders, Cambodia joined two other nations to help retract and completely shut down a statement slamming China for its refusal to stop building military installations along atolls in the sea.
The situation has led many Asean nations to call Cambodia a “puppet of China” and question its independence. Cambodia denies any influence from China and vehemently hit back against allegations that it was behind retracting the statement last week.
“The CPP would like to reject unjust allegations that Cambodia has destroyed the issuing of a joint statement from Asean on the issue of the South China Sea both in Kunming recently and in 2012,” the ruling party said.
“The CPP insisted to all claimant states to refrain from using force, or threatening to use force, in connection to the issue of the South China Sea and give the possibility to claimant states to resolve it by using the mechanism of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and Code of Conduct (COC),” it added.  
In a speech after the Asean statement debacle, Mr. Hun Sen defended Cambodia’s actions, claiming Cambodia was simply being impartial in a dispute between countries that did not involve it.
“I would like to affirm the stance of Cambodia that we will not be issuing any joint statement in support of the verdict of the court,” Mr. Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony last week in Phnom Penh.
The prime minister claimed Cambodia’s stance was further hardened by repeated attempts to sway it to the side of the Philippines by an unnamed diplomat “from outside Asean nations.”
“That one diplomat from outside Asean nations has lobbied for issuing a joint statement among Asean member states for one voice after the Court of Arbitration releases its judgment [on the case] that the Philippines filed against China,” he said.
“It is a dispute between the Philippines and China, so let the Philippines and China resolve it. Why do they need support from Asean?”
The Philippines filed its case against China to the Court of Arbitration in 2013 and the court is set to release its judgment soon.

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