I wish to comment on the recent Singaporean media publication, namely the Strait Times and Channel News Asia on remarks made by Ong Keng Yong, who was secretary-general of ASEAN between 2003-2007. He stated that Cambodia’s agreement with China on the issues of South China Sea (SCS) was “surprising” and amounted to “interference” in ASEAN’s affairs.
Cambodia, as a non-claimant state, has been very cautious on the sensitive issues of SCS. It has maintained its position of principle of not taking sides on territorial claims. Unfortunately, Cambodia is seen by international media as a “culprit” whenever there is anything to do with China and no one wants to listen to Cambodia’s position.
If Cambodia is to borrow Singapore’s mouth, we are actually speaking the same language. Answering the parliamentary questions in August 2012, the then-foreign minister of Singapore, K Shanmugam stated: “We are not a claimant state and we have always maintained that by their very nature, the specific territorial disputes in the South China Sea can only be settled by the parties directly concerned . . . I wish to underscore that ASEAN as a grouping cannot and does not take sides on the merits of a particular claim or claims. Nor do we attempt to resolve the disputes.”
According to the latest ASEAN Chairman’s Statement as adopted in Kuala Lumpur in November, “ASEAN emphasised the importance for the states concerned to resolve their differences and disputes through peaceful means, in accordance with international law”.
Mr Ong seemed to fully understand this statement as he was quoted saying that “ASEAN have agreed among ourselves that dispute concerns have to be worked out bilaterally”.
Hence, what is the difference between “the dispute concerned have to be worked out bilaterally” and “the territorial disputes is not an issue between China and ASEAN as a whole”? ASEAN has 10 members.
Thus, if it is a dispute between China and four ASEAN members, it is obvious to say it is not a conflict of ASEAN as a whole.
There was not any secret deal, pact or agreement. It was simply a repetition of ASEAN’s position. So, what is so surprising when Cambodia only mentioned the obvious?
On another note, using the word “interference” in this context is very disrespectful to a sovereign member state of ASEAN as Cambodia has full right to express its own position and ASEAN’s position when such position was adopted unanimously.
As a former diplomat, he should have better choice of words. His latest remark is nothing but “strange”.
Former Cambodian diplomat to Tokyo (2010-2014)
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