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Errors and bias distort analysis

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Regional leaders pose for a photograph during the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh last month. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Dear Editor

Having carefully read the article titled “ASEAN: time for change” by Roger Mitton in Monday’s Post, I am greatly concerned about some of the issues raised in it because of its inaccuracy, sloppy work and political bias.

First, to say that Cambodia had been “repeatedly dropping the baton during its chairmanship” of ASEAN is to insult Cambodia and mislead the public.

Mitton did not see the bigger picture and the achievements we have made this year, such as the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the Establishment of an ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre, the successful launch of the ASEAN Global Dialogue and the Declaration on a Drug-Free ASEAN 2015, among others.

Second, there was no “kowtowing” to China by Cambodia, and there was no “failure to back fellow members” of ASEAN.

As a matter of principle, Cambodia did not support one country against another on the complex issue of the South China Sea.

As chair of ASEAN, it tried very hard to push forward on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), including the process of drafting the Code of Conduct (COC).

I would also point out that, after assuming the chairmanship, Cambodia convened six meetings of the ASEAN senior officials’ working group on the COC in the first six months of this year – the most intensive schedule ASEAN had.

At the same time, Cambodia pushed for the convening of the ASEAN-China senior officials’ meeting on the DOC in Hanoi in
late June, as well as holding the ASEAN-China senior officials’ informal consultations on the COC, the first of their kind, in
Phnom Penh in July and September.

The last two meetings were very important in terms of getting ASEAN and China to move forward on the drafting of the COC.

So how could anyone accuse Cambodia of “kow-towing” to China on the issue of the South China Sea? Cambodia’s actions speak louder than words in this instance.

Third, it is very wrong to state that “Cambodia falsely alleged ASEAN leaders had agreed not to ‘internationalise’ the conflicting maritime claims.”

During the retreat of the ASEAN Summit on November 19, one of the ASEAN leaders (who I wish not to single out) proposed that ASEAN should not internationalise the issue of the South China Sea.

Then, in his summary of the retreat, Prime Minister Hun Sen summed up this issue, along with other key decisions of the meeting. But there were no other ASEAN leaders opposed to the idea of not internationalising the South China Sea issue.

Following ASEAN practice, the chairman’s statement tried to reflect the consensus-based decisions of ASEAN leaders. But
the following day, the Philippines publicly raised the matter, saying it did not support this idea.

In the spirit of ASEAN, Cambodia deleted the sentence “ASEAN agreed not to internationalise the issue of the South China Sea.”

As there is a big difference between a chairman’s statement and a declaration in ASEAN terminology, it’s important that Mitton learn how to use these terms correctly.

Fourth, there has never been a “crisis of confidence” for ASEAN during Cambodia’s chairmanship. Perhaps that happened only in Mitton’s imagination.

Certainly, no one in ASEAN had heard the remark Mitton attributed to ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan on this issue.

Fifth, it was a great insult not only to Cambodia but to ASEAN when Mitton described all the hard work and achievements this year as “the annus horribilis”.

In fact, Cambodia is very proud of its achievements and successes in its capacity as ASEAN chair, as has been indicated in various lett-ers of appreciation and praise by the leaders of ASEAN and ASEAN dialogue partners.

Sixth, Mitton should show some respect and humility. Instead, he attempted to debase Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Internat-ional Co-operation, by describing him as too old and too ineffective.

In what capacity, and on what basis, does Mitton presume to judge Hor Namhong? Only the Cambodian people, the Royal Government and the parliament can judge him.

Hor Namhong’s ministerial coll-eagues in ASEAN would surely know of his capacity, dedication and experience, as well as his contributions to ASEAN since Cambodia joined it in 1999, especially during the years of its chairmanship.

The Deputy Prime Minister is a respected senior diplomat and a man of principle, with many years of experience in international relat-ions. The problem is that he refuses to be bullied or easily swayed.

Seventh, it’s sad to see a veteran journalist like Roger Mitton turning in sloppy work. He displays his ignorance of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty by listing India as one of the nuclear-armed states ASEAN has to negotiate with to conclude the treaty protocol.

If he can’t get such a simple thing right, how can he comment with authority on ASEAN matters?

Kuoy Kong
Under Secretary of State 

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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