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Cambodia Seeks Role as Mediator Between Asean, China

China claims the highlighted portion of the South China Sea. Many other governments also claim all or part of the South China Sea.

Cambodia will continue to seek to be a mediator in South China Sea disputes between China and Asean nations, Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with China’s newly appointed ambassador to Asean, Xu Bu, Hor Namhong said Cambodia would like to maintain good relations between China and Asean, to sustain security in the region and bolster long-term economic growth.

Analysts have said that Cambodia’s close relationship with China—a major provider of economic aid and development here—is a potential threat to a united Asean front on the South China Sea issue. Asean nations embroiled in the issue with China are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In 2012, Cambodia’s apparent support for China derailed talks on the contentious maritime issue at an Asean summit in Phnom Penh. China has meanwhile maintained that the issue should be solved bilaterally, between nations, and not negotiated with Asean as a bloc.

“Cambodia wants to mediate in order to reduce the tense atmosphere between Asean and China because we discern that no solution can be found without talking to each other,” Hor Namhong said Wednesday. “If we want to get a diplomatic solution, we must talk to each other. If not, we can’t find any solution.”

Xu Bu gave few details of his meeting or position on the South China Sea, but he praised the Cambodian government for its efforts to mediate.

However, Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University and a political analyst, said Cambodia has very little political influence in the region, which is more divided than it appears. “In fact, Asean is split,” he said. “Asean-China, Asean-US, Asean-Australia. Meaning, they all have big masters behind them. So I believe it’s not easy to mediate in any case.”

However, though China is in dispute with four Asean nations, it is unlikely to push for an aggressive military solution, preferring to follow its strategy of economic development, he said.