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Setting the record straight

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Delegates pose for a group photo during an ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

Dear Editor,

I find the article entitled: “ASEAN struggles for unity” by Mr Roger Mitton, published in your newspaper, on July 23, 2012, full of wild and ill conjectures and deliberately insulting to Cambodia.

First, by referring to Cambodia as a “junior” member of ASEAN, Mr Roger Mitton has not only insulted Cambodia, but also ASEAN, in suggesting that within ASEAN members are accorded and treated with higher or lower status.

As stipulated in the ASEAN Charter, all ASEAN members act on the principle of equality and no member is considered lesser than others, regardless of their wealth or physical size.

Second, it is a fact that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ statement on ASEAN’s Six-point Principles on the South China Sea was issued on July 20, 2012, following Dr Marty’s consultation with Cambodia, the Chair of ASEAN.

But one should not ignore the fact that in several restricted meetings during the 45th AMM, Cambodia proposed to adopt a position which is exactly the same as the ASEAN’s Six-point Principles, but it was flatly rejected by two ASEAN members having bilateral disputes in the South China Sea.

This makes one wonder whether there was a plan to sabotage the 45th AMM that the same position put forth by the ASEAN Chair was not accepted then by the two countries.

In fact the ASEAN’s Six-point Principles are even more fundamental and profound in significance for ASEAN to apply in dealing with the South China Sea issue, than the content of the rejected draft Joint Communiqué.

It is very regretful that, for the first time in 45 years, two ASEAN Members chose to block the 45th AMM Joint Communiqué with an ultimatum for inclusion of direct reference to their bilateral disputes in the South China Sea.

They essentially hijacked the 45th AMM and make the Joint Communiqué a hostage of their unyielding demand, a move completely contrary to the ASEAN way which has always been put aside for further discussion any issue that members cannot achieve a consensus on.

Third, the assertion of Roger Mitton that “Cambodia took Beijing’s side”, ignoring its earlier promise to be a neutral mediator in regional disputes such as the South China Sea, is itself a very biased and unfair view.

Cambodia’s position of principle is that ASEAN should not take sides and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting is not a Court to rule against or in favour of any party in disputes.

As the ASEAN Chair and as it is the role of the Chair at any meeting, Cambodia had to prevent the already tensed situation from getting worse and to leave the door open for future talks by countries concerned. By not adding fuel to the fire, Cambodia has tried its best to fulfill its pledge to be a neutral mediator.

Fourth, the reference to Cambodia as a “proxy”, “paid” and “hired” by China in the form of large investment to sideline the South China Sea issue and to do “China’s bidding” is really insane.

Cambodia is only trying to be neutral in the bilateral disputes. If Cambodia is seen as a “paid proxy” for receiving large investment from a foreign country, then the same could be said to other countries that receive large investment from foreign countries.

Fifth, those who said the Peace Palace was funded by China are simply ignorant people. The building’s construction was fully funded with the national budget of Cambodia. China provided assistance for construction of the adjacent building and not the Peace Palace where the Ministerial Meetings were held.

The Ministry of the Economy and Finance of Cambodia has all the documents on the expenditure for the Peace Palace’s construction.

Sixth, the allegation that Cambodia “showed the draft communiqué of the 45th AMM to China in breach of protocol” is extremely disparaging and slanderous. Those who made such a scathing attack against Cambodia, has no other intention than to defame Cambodia’s credibility.

When and where did Roger Mitton or the person who paid him to blurt out such a malicious accusation see Cambodia “show” the draft Joint Communiqué to China?

Cambodia is also aware who have been hired to launch this smearing and insulting campaign against it.

I wish to request you to kindly publish my letter in full, as soon as possible, in your newspaper for the readers’ information, or face a lawsuit, according to the Cambodian Penal Code, for inciting insults against Cambodia.

Yours sincerely,
Koy Kuong,
Spokesperson
Editor’s note: Roger Mitton is a regional columnist and his views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Phnom Penh Post.

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