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Gov't plays down ASEAN split over South China Sea

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Hun Sen upon his arrival at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Afp

Gov't plays down ASEAN split over South China Sea

The Cambodian government yesterday sought to downplay reports of a split within ASEAN over the ongoing South China Sea dispute.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday announced that China had reached an agreement with Cambodia, Laos and Brunei that countries should deal with China individually in the dispute rather than as a bloc.

ASEAN secretary-general Le Luong Minh yesterday expressed concern that any such development would be a deviation from a 2012 agreement that ASEAN member countries would negotiate as a unified body.

“An ASEAN country cannot negotiate with China on disputes that involve also other ASEAN countries,” Luong Minh told Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hongbo yesterday declined to comment, referring reporters to reports by Chinese state media CCTV, which described a “significant consensus” that had been reached during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s whistle-stop tour of Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

CCTV reported the points of agreement were that the dispute was between individual nations, rather than China and ASEAN as a whole; that those countries should be left to settle the dispute by themselves; that they should do so without use or threats of force; and that China and the ASEAN nations should cooperate to ensure peace in the South China Sea.

However, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan insisted no new deal had been reached over the weekend.

“There’s been no agreement or discussions, just a visit by a Chinese foreign minister,” said Siphan, referring to Yi’s visit to Phnom Penh on Friday.

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