A high-profile ASEAN summit in the US attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen culminated in a statement obliquely criticising alleged Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, though a government spokesman was quick to maintain that the document said “nothing new” about the Kingdom’s position on the international dispute.
Cambodia has long stated that its position on the sea aligns with that of its perceived benefactor, and the Kingdom drew fire over the failure to issue a joint statement during its chairmanship of the ASEAN summit in 2012, which was widely attributed to its pro-China stance.
The summit that ended on Tuesday in California, on the other hand, issued a final joint statement including several mentions of “maritime security” and “freedom of navigation” – veiled critiques, observers said, of China’s aggressive tack in the contentious sea, a long-time US foreign policy concern.
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the final statement was “nothing different” from Cambodia’s past positions on the dispute, including the controversial 2012 summit.
“Cambodia is of the position to maintain dialogue for everyone. We wish everybody to be peaceful. There is nothing different [compared to 2012],” Siphan said.
However, political analyst Ou Virak said the final statement coming out of California would certainly irk China, and that any claims from the Cambodian side downplaying the language were due to the “sensitive” nature of the Cambodian government’s dependence on China.
Meanwhile, opposition concerns that anti-Hun Sen protests at the US summit would result in reprisals back home were assuaged yesterday following news that ruling party-affiliated groups had called off protest plans.
The fears came after threats of counter-demonstrations similar to the one issued by the premier after a similar diaspora protest in Paris last October. The retaliatory anti-opposition protest at the National Assembly was followed by the beating of two opposition lawmakers by a pro-ruling party mob.
Saing Sung, leader of the Will of Overseas Youth, told local media outlets on Tuesday that he had called off counter-protests, while ruling party social media activist Khan Chan Sophal told the Post yesterday that he too would not lead protests.
“I will not protest because the opposition did not recognise the protesters [in the US] as their own,” he said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng said at the sidelines of a meeting in Kandal province yesterday that a request from the Inter-Parliamentary Union this week to protect lawmakers in the event of counter-protests had already been responded to.
“I told them I had already done it,” he said.
Kheng added he was attempting to set up a meeting with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on Friday, with Hun Sen expected to return that night.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara