Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn yesterday defended the government’s stance on the disputed South China Sea, saying Cambodia had acted in an “independent and neutral” manner at the recent Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in Manila, despite accusations that the Kingdom had helped water down a communiqué addressing China’s territorial ambitions in contested waters.
An impasse was broken late on Sunday night when the communiqué – a joint declaration from the member states – was passed. Despite calling for non-militarisation in the South China Sea and raising concerns about “land reclamation”, the statement did not insist on a legally binding code of conduct for managing the area, as Vietnam had pushed for.
Sokhonn attempted to equate the drafting of joint statements to making soup, where he said each country would like to add their own “ingredients” but that in the end the soup had to be palatable to all Asean member states. “But when the one who likes chili and puts a lot of chili, what about the country who does not like chili, should they agree with it? The Vietnamese had requested a lot of words to be strong,” he said.
This is not the first time Cambodia has been accused of sacrificing regional cooperation on behalf of China. In 2012, as chair of the Asean meet, Cambodia helped kill a similar statement on the South China Sea and for the first time in its 45-year history the body failed to issue a joint statement after a foreign ministers’ meeting.
“[Critics] like to use the weak country as a sandbag for them to punch because the sandbag cannot respond,” Sokhonn said.