PHNOM PENH —
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday rebuked critics who say Cambodia leans more toward China than the US in its international relations, while firmly staying neutral on the South China Sea dispute.
Some political analysts say Foreign Minister Hor Namhong flew to China this week to discuss last week’s visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry, though Hor Namhong has said the meeting was scheduled well in advance.
Hun Sen, who will meet with other Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama later this month, said in a public speech Friday Cambodia’s foreign policy is aimed at independence and neutrality. Hun Sen also said he had been involved in international diplomacy for decades, when he was made a foreign minister at the age of 27, when some of his critics were “still running naked” as children.
Cambodian foreign policy is not aimed at isolating the country from potential allies, he said, adding, “it’s not necessary to reveal a nation’s foreign policy.”
Hor Namhong is in China to discuss bilateral trade and security issues, with both sides aiming to reach $5 billion in trade by 2017, and with China embroiled in the contentious South China Sea issue with four of Cambodia’s fellow members of Asean—Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Following Hor Namhong’s meeting with State Councilor Yang Jiechia on Thursday, the Xinhua news agency said both sides continued to push for a settlement of the issue.
Xinhua quoted Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin as saying the issue should be addressed through a “dual track” approach, with China seeking settlements with individual countries but with Asean working to maintain peace and stability in the sea in the meantime.
Hun Sen said Friday Cambodia has a similar stance, one that he reiterated with Kerry last week. “I told Kerry, ‘We should not add fuel to the fire concerning the South China Sea disputes,’” Hun Sen said. “We should let the dispute parties find their own resolutions. That would be a good thing, because with or without a Code of Conduct, Asean has no authority to share the territory among anybody. Vietnam, China and the Philippines should solve the issue together.”
Cambodia has been criticized in the past for advancing China’s position in the dispute, particularly in 2012, when Cambodia was the chair of Asean and failed to bring around a joint statement from the regional block on the issue. Hun Sen said Friday that no other Asean chair has been able to bring about a resolution to the tensions in the South China Sea and that Cambodia is owed an apology.