Cambodia has reportedly said it is going to request a paragraph mentioning the conflict over the South China Sea be struck from a statement that will be released after the regional grouping meets next month.
The Asean summit will be held in Vientiane, Laos, in September.
On Wednesday, the Cambodia Daily quoted ruling party spokesman Cheam Yeap as saying that the government will ask the Asean Inter-parliamentary Assembly “to strike a paragraph referring to the conflict from a statement the organization plans to issue at the end of a September meeting in Vientiane”.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia wanted to keep Asean out of the dispute as it views the conflict as between China and individual Asean members, not the body as a whole.
“So of course, Cambodia's position is to keep the relationship between Asean members as well as Asean and China, because the dispute is not with Asean. We keep the benefits of Asean separately and [will] not let [Asean] become the enemy of neighboring countries,” he said.
“We let all the countries that have conflicts with China deal with this issue by themselves. So we don’t want to bring in the fire to our Asean families,” he added.
Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said that Cambodia will be accused of being under the influence of China, which could have long-term effects.
“I’m concerned for the long run, because the accusation means Cambodia has lost support from countries other than China, especially when [the conflict] involves a country like Vietnam, which is our neighbor and [a country] which had influence on Cambodia in the past. So I’m concerned,” he said.
Siphan was quick to argue that other Asean countries share a similar position on the South China Sea, referencing a statement issued in August by the Asean foreign ministers, which also took out references to the conflict.
China is Cambodia's biggest donor and source of loans, with an estimated $15 billion in aid and loans distributed to Cambodia over the past 20 years.