Following a closed-door meeting, the defence ministers of Cambodia and Singapore announced yesterday that the controversial South China Sea dispute would not be placed on the agenda at next week’s ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
Speaking to reporters after the session with his Singaporean counterpart, Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh recognised the importance of resolving the prickly dispute, describing it as a “key issue”, but said that it would not be a topic of discussion at the defence leaders’ summit, which begins next Tuesday in Siem Reap.
“The defence ministers of ASEAN have no obligation to raise [the issue] for discussion,” Tea Banh said.
Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen looked to other nations to take primary responsibility for resolving the dispute, which he said was “complex” and required “patience”.
“Cambodia and Singapore are non-claimant states, and I think that the other stakeholders will be able to move this issue forward,” Ng Eng Hen said.
The long-standing maritime row among China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam featured prominently at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting earlier this month, when Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the dispute was “unacceptable”.
In a statement released during the meeting, he urged ASEAN to agree on a code of conduct for the sea before approaching China to negotiate.
The Philippine Embassy stood by del Rosario’s statement yesterday, but did not provide further detail about next week’s Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]