Politics

Regional Ministers Meet Over South China Sea Ahead of Security Meeting

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South-China-Sea-Chinese-simplified
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Kong Sothanarith, Men KimsengVOA Khmer

Asean leaders say they are moving toward agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, as they prepare for a major regional security meeting later this week.

A code of conduct would help Vietnam and the Philippines, which are both members of Asean, and China prevent conflict in their overlapping claims to the South China Sea and its resources.

“I think we are coming to an agreement,” Malaysia’s foreign minister, Y.B. Datuk Anifah bin Haji Aman, told reporters after a long meeting Monday.

“All efforts must be aimed at preventing incidents in the South China Sea,” said Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s foreign minister.

Asean officials met with a Chinese delegation on Sunday to discuss the issue.

Cambodia will host the Asean Regional Forum in Phnom Penh on July 12, focusing on security issues and including the participation of major international powers, including the US.

Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Asean leaders had so far agreed on “key elements” of the code of conduct that would also need to be discussed with China.

Asean ministers will also discuss the ongoing fighting in Syria, tensions on the Korean peninsula and other security matters, he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend meetings later this week, along with a delegation of US investors looking to expand trade. Her visit could have a number of implications for Cambodia, outside analysts say.

On the surface, increased trade and closer US engagement are at the heart of the trip. But a senior foreign affairs journalist says China’s “growing ambition” in the region has a role to play.

Matthew Lee, the Associated Press correspondent for the State Department, told VOA Khmer in a recent interview that Cambodia has increased its ties with China, even as some Asean members, like Burma, seek to distance themselves from it.

“So the United States has an interest in [Cambodia] as it tries to keep the power balance in the Asia Pacific region in general,” Lee said.

Cambodia has in recent years proven a friend of the US in its regional counter-terrorism efforts, though its rights record remains poor. It has also received huge aid packages from China and struck a number of mining and hydrological power dam deals with Chinese companies.

Lee said the US would also want to see water resources in the region managed well. This means ensuring that the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap are not depleted in coming years.

“Water is a very important thing, and the the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap are huge resources for the Cambodian people,” he said. The United States government would like to see those resources managed well.”

A delegation of more than 100 businessmen and women will arrive in Cambodia this week to look into investment potential.

Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, said this could help Cambodia improve its human rights, “because the US always reminds its partners about rights issues.”

Yap Kimtung’s group met with State Department officials recently to voice their concerns over Cambodia’s ongoing human rights violations.

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