The government yesterday publicly pledged to support China’s position on settling South China Sea disputes, insisting that any resolution should be sought through direct negotiations and not involve the regional ASEAN political bloc.
Seung Rathchavy, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters after a closed-door meeting with 28 foreign diplomats yesterday that only those parties directly involved in the disputes should be included in the negotiations.
“Cambodia’s stance has not changed since the beginning [of the dispute]. It’s important that the issue of the South China Sea is resolved by all relevant parties implementing the [declaration of conduct],” she said, referring to an agreement signed by the ASEAN countries in Phnom Penh in 2002.
“The territorial claims have to be resolved by the involved parties. ASEAN cannot resolve this problem because we are not a court which can judge who is right or wrong, or which piece of land or water belongs to which country,” Rathchavy continued.
The comments came after Cambodian officials attended the 26th ASEAN summit in Malaysia, which wrapped up on April 27.
Rathchavy added that Cambodia was “neutral” on the issue and not biased in favour of China, which is the country’s largest foreign investor.
China claims about 90 per cent of the waters in the South China Sea and has for years said that ASEAN should not interfere in the dispute. Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have all lodged competing claims to the strategic waters and islands.
In 2012, Cambodia chaired ASEAN and presided over a bitter row between the member states over the wording of a draft communique on maritime tensions. The states’ refusal to come to an agreement meant a statement was not released at the end of the summit for the first time since the 1960s.
The statement released after last week’s Malaysia summit noted that ongoing reclamation work in the South China Sea had “eroded trust and confidence”.
China, Cambodia’s closest ally in the region, provides substantial loans, aid and military support to the Kingdom and many of Cambodia’s most prominent tycoons have close links with Chinese businesses.
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said the disputes were “the internal affairs of China and ASEAN countries, so let them resolve it themselves”.