Members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party discussed political tensions over the South China Sea during their congress this weekend, fearing it could lead to an arms race in the region.
During its annual meeting, the party issued a broad-reaching strategy paper, warning US interests in the South China Sea issue “makes the situation more complicated” for Asean members and China, as they seek to establish and follow a code of conduct. The CPP strategy paper also describes concerns of regional conflict, as the West seeks to counter China’s rising influence.
“The interference by a superpower and other countries is intended to curb the rise of the People’s Republic of China to be the biggest regional and global superpower,” the 49-page document states. “In this case, it is possible to lead to armed clashes among some nations, which will have an arms race with the People’s Republic of China in settling South China Sea disputes.”
The release of the strategy paper, which covers many facets of the ruling party’s plans, comes just one week after China made test landings of aircraft along a dispute reef near the Spratly Islands. Four Asean nations have disputed claims over the sea with China. Each of them—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam—protested the tests.
Political analysts say Cambodia needs to remain politically stable and retain relationships with both China and the West to prosper.
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said the CPP’s concerns show it is paying close attention to regional disputes and a balance of power, as the issue heats up. That’s “not wrong,” he said. “But what I doubt is that the Foreign Ministry has a clear stance to tell people what exactly it is doing. Let alone talking about the South China Sea issue.”
Ou Virak said the CPP should be building better relations with the US, to balance against China, which has expanded its influence in Cambodia, both militarily and economically, in recent years.
Meanwhile, Koul Panha, head of the election monitoring group Comfrel, said the CPP’s inclination toward China means the party doesn’t want more interference from the US.
“Yes, the ruling party wants to show that the dispute should be settled by all parties in the conflicts and [they] do not want any outsiders to engage in the settlement,” he said. “But it’s a tough international affair, when conflicted parties in Asean are engaged in a dispute.”
Cambodia’s foreign policies are generally not well communicated or debated, he added.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told VOA Khmer that the CPP remains neutral in international affairs and had only updated its members on the South China Sea issue over the weekend. “We are not inclined to any side,” he said. “We only discussed developing situations, that’s all.”