PHNOM PENH —
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has countered apparent fears that Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea dispute would cause a split within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The statement came amid concerns from some members of the Asean bloc that Cambodia and Laos favor China in the dispute after the countries reportedly held differing opinions over the issuance of a joint statement about the South China Sea after a meeting of Asean ministers in Kunming last week.
“It is too unjust for Cambodia that Cambodia faces – that this time I frankly say – Cambodia is not a part of the destruction of Asean,” Hun Sen said.
He added that Cambodia had from the outset supported the Asean-China mechanism to implement fairly the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), urged Asean and China to create a Code of Conduct (COC), and that claimant countries should solve the problem together.
He stressed that Asean could not itself be an arbeiter.
International media reported that Asean states agreed to issue a joint declaration after the meeting last week, but at the last minute Cambodia and Laos changed their positions following Chinese lobbying.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also said the South China Sea dispute was a bilateral issue.
“I do not just support without thinking about justice and our own nation at all,” he said.
Hun Sen also recalled previous accusations that Cambodia favored China by blocking the issuance of a Joint Communique in 2012 about the South China Sea when Cambodia hosted that year’s Asean Summit. Cambodia was accused of supporting China’s policy in exchange for loans and billions of dollars in aid.
Kung Phoak, president of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS), said Cambodia had made its position clear on many occasions.