Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - China thanks Cambodia for efforts to water down ASEAN SCS statement



China thanks Cambodia for efforts to water down ASEAN SCS statement

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh during the ASEAN-China meeting in Vientiane yesterday. AFP
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh during the ASEAN-China meeting in Vientiane yesterday. AFP

China thanks Cambodia for efforts to water down ASEAN SCS statement

Hours before ASEAN foreign ministers released a long-negotiated, but ultimately watered down communiqué on the contentious South China Sea, China’s foreign minister singled out Cambodia for praise for holding out against a push for a stronger statement.

Significantly absent was any mention of the recent verdict at The Hague, which nullified the majority of China’s claims, which lie in conflict with four ASEAN members.

“China highly appreciates Cambodia and other ASEAN countries taking charge of impartiality and safeguarding impartiality,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. “History will prove that the Cambodian side’s maintained position is correct.”

Wang went on to take a jab at an “external force” that was looking to stoke the issue – a thinly veiled reference to the US, which has pushed the Asian behemoth to honour the arbitration ruling.

“We will not permit any external force to seek to exploit and hype up the so-called South China Sea arbitration case and bring chaos to this region,” Wang said.

ASEAN’s diluted statement, released yesterday morning at a meeting of foreign ministers in Laos, makes no mention of the July 12 arbitration ruling in the case brought by the Philippines, instead acknowledging the concern of “some ministers” at China’s land reclamation activities and pushing for “non-militarisation and self-restraint”.

“We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the statement reads.

One diplomat said they had to come out with a statement or else it would seem “that ASEAN is in disarray”, with another diplomat calling it a “compromise statement”.

The stalemate in the lead-up to the meet had raised concerns of a repeat of the 2012 ASEAN summit hosted by group chair Cambodia, when backroom bickering over the South China Sea resulted in the release of no joint statement at all – a first for the 10-nation bloc.

Over the weekend, Cambodia was widely criticised for stonewalling any attempts to insert strong language referencing the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim to a lion’s share of the sea.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday dismissed any claims that China’s public appreciation of Cambodia’s stance meant there was any collusion between the two countries.

“It is unfair to say that,” Siphan said. “Everyone can doubt us and accuse us.”

Siphan said Cambodia had maintained its stand that only parties that were directly involved should be involved in any resolution.

“We don’t want to see a third party in this,” he said. “The parties involved should solve it – that is fair.”

Regional analyst Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said there was no need for China to push Prime Minister Hun Sen on this issue because he was already compliant towards their position.

“He [Hun Sen] bandwagons with China by showing his support on an issue of little relevance to Cambodia in order to ingratiate himself to the leadership in Beijing in the expectation of further political and material support for the Hun Sen regime,” Thayer said.

Beijing is one of Cambodia’s largest providers of aid and financial assistance, with the Chinese announcing a $530 million three-year aid package just last week, coinciding with Cambodia’s reiteration of its decision to disregard the South China Sea arbitration ruling.

Thayer said Cambodia would likely not face any real backlash for staying in lockstep with Beijing but would instead move affected ASEAN members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – closer to the US, further dividing the bloc.

“The current rift shows that Cambodia is the odd country out, [interested] in pursuing the narrow interests of the Hun Sen regime at the expense of the common interests of the littoral and maritime states,” Thayer said.

Additional reporting by AFP

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from