Philippines’ Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario (C) attends an ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia has again weighed into the diplomatic clash that ignited after last month’s ASEAN summit, laying blame for a breakdown of talks squarely at the feet of the Philippines and Vietnam in three stinging rebukes of newspaper articles yesterday.
The foreign ministry has grown increasingly sensitive to the barrage of criticism launched its way after ASEAN failed to issue a joint communiqué during the summit in Phnom Penh for the first time in the 10-member bloc’s 45-year history due to disagreements over the South China Sea.
All three responses published on the website of state news service Agence Kampuchea Presse accuse the Philippines and Vietnam of “hijacking” the talks by demanding their bilateral disputes with China over the waters be specifically included in the communiqué.
Cambodia now holds ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship, and ambassador to Thailand You Ay slammed the assertion that China had become “an open patron state of Phnom Penh” in a July 27 editorial published in the Bangkok Post.
“…the allegation that Cambodia ‘shared the draft version of the joint statement with the Chinese, who then vetoed it’ is extremely disparaging and slanderous,” she wrote.
Cambodia’s ambassador in Manila, Hos Sereythonh, accused Erlinda Basilio, an undersecretary at the Philippine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of “dirty politics”, “story telling” and “inventing reality” in her opinion piece to the The Philippine Star on July 9.
“Both the Philippines and Vietnam continued to insist from July 9 until the last day of the meeting (July13) to include their bilateral disputes with China in the JC,” he wrote. “By doing so, the two countries wanted to sabotage and hijack the JC [joint communiqué] as well as the AMM [ASEAN Ministerial Meeting], and to make them fail before the eyes of the ASEAN Dialogue Partners and the International Community.”
The Philippines and China are divided over sovereignty of the small rocky reef known as the Scarborough Shoal, while Vietnam lays claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone that also overlaps Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
While key elements of a Code of Conduct to tackle competing claims were agreed to during the ASEAN summit, no concensus was reached over the inclusion of these disputes.
On July 20, after a whistlestop tour by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the bloc’s foreign ministers agreed to a statement of six principles on the South China Sea.
Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said detailed notes of a last-ditch effort to broker a compromise on the communiqué clearly showed Cambodia had refused to negotiate whatsoever.
“How can you accuse two countries of hijacking the meeting when the compromise was rejected out of hand [by Cambodia]?” he said.
Thayer said it was clear Vietnam and the Philippines had been willing to negotiate at least a little, while Cambodia had taken an “our way or no way” approach to the communiqué.
“Let water go under the bridge and do what Indonesia did, do what the ASEAN chair is supposed to do,” he said, referencing Indonesia’s attempt at consensus-building.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at [email protected]