Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ASEAN talks South China Sea in Siem Reap



ASEAN talks South China Sea in Siem Reap

A vendor in Beijing stands behind a map of China that includes an insert showing China’s so-called ‘Nine-Dash Line’, which defines its claims in the South China Sea.  AFP
A vendor in Beijing stands behind a map of China that includes an insert showing China’s so-called ‘Nine-Dash Line’, which defines its claims in the South China Sea. AFP

ASEAN talks South China Sea in Siem Reap

Chinese and ASEAN representatives are meeting in Siem Reap to begin hammering out a code of conduct for the highly contested South China Sea.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said Cambodia was hosting the director-general-level meeting yesterday and today.

China has openly dismissed an international tribunal’s determination that the sea’s rocky outcrops cannot be used as the basis for territorial claims, though ASEAN members such as Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which are embroiled in the territorial disputes with China, applauded the decision. While the disputes persist, Beijing has consistently expressed interest in finalising a code of conduct for the region among its neighbours.

Cambodia, meanwhile, has a habit of derailing any attempt by ASEAN, which relies on consensus, to condemn China for its activities in the disputed waters, and has discouraged member states from negotiating their disputes as a unified bloc. But according to one analyst, Cambodia’s role as host of the negotiations could help improve the Kingdom’s reputation with other ASEAN members, and bolster its image as an important diplomatic player.

“It’s a good thing for Cambodia to have this role and host this meeting instead of being only seen as a spoiler that is always supportive of China,” said Pou Sovachana, deputy director of the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).

It is likely that Cambodia, as host of the initial meeting, will take the lead in the negotiations, said Paul Chambers of Thailand’s Naresuan University. But, Chambers argued, it’s also likely Phnom Penh will work to ensure the code is “diluted and ambiguous” so China does not face formalised opposition from ASEAN.

“Cambodia has an important role in these negotiations, for China, to weaken any ASEAN resistance to China’s increasing militarization of the South China Sea,” Chambers wrote in an email.

Attendees of the meeting could not be reached for comment. But Greg Raymond, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, disagreed that Cambodia would play an important role in drafting any code of conduct.

“Cambodia’s role is likely to be smaller than that of Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore. Partially due to its more limited diplomatic capacity and partially due to its generally pro-China stance, it’s likely to be allowing others to do the heavy lifting,” Raymond wrote in an email.

Sophea Hok, a Ministry of Information official and former colleague of Director-General for ASEAN Ouk Sorphorn, confirmed that Cambodia is “just the host country”, saying the real leaders were China and Singapore.

Regardless of who takes the helm, Raymond said, there is “determination to get this done”. “[But] finding something acceptable to both sides, in terms of concrete limits on things like island reclamation and installation of military facilities, may be difficult,” he wrote.

For Sovachana, of the CICP, the most important thing is that the code be specific and enforceable.

“It’s not important how long it takes [to negotiate], it depends on how effective it is,” he said. “It needs to have some teeth, but I think that’s been lacking in ASEAN.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration