Cambodia will uphold its neutrality on the issue of the South China Sea during the upcoming 35th Asean Summit in Bangkok as the Philippines pushes for the completion of a code of conduct that will help ensure the territorial dispute with China will not lead to war.
According to a Manila Times report, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to push for the completion of the long-delayed code of conduct in the South China Sea when he attends the summit.
“I think it will be featured in the discussions. It’s unavoidable. Because in the meeting of the leaders, they will have a tour of the horizon of what’s happening throughout the region,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West said.
In a draft statement obtained yesterday by Khmer Times, Thailand, which will chair the upcoming summit from Saturday to Monday, confirmed that the South China Sea dispute will be a priority.
“We reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea and recognise the benefits of having the South China Sea,” it said. “We warmly welcome the continued improvement of cooperation between Asean and China, and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive code of conduct in the South China Sea within a mutually-agreed timeline.”
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea with China.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Cambodia also wants to see the completion of the code of conduct, but the Kingdom will not take sides.
“We are not taking sides with any nation; we are urging for the strengthening of the principles of the code of conduct on the South China Sea,” Mr Siphan. “We want the South China Sea to be a place of cooperation, not war.”
“Our stance is the same: Even though there are disagreements among nations, we call for more dialogue,” he added.
In 2012, Asean failed to draft a joint statement to condemn China for increased military presence on the South China Sea because Cambodia refused to be a signatory.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said the South China Sea dispute is a sensitive topic in the region.
“The South China Sea should not be a black cloud that spoils Asean-China relations, it is necessary for Asean member states that have a dispute with China to solve it through bilateral negotiation under international laws and treaties,” Mr Phea said. “I think Cambodia should maintain its stance of finding a peaceful resolution on the South China Sea and push all relevant nations to respect the code of conduct.”
“We should appeal to all relevant nations to peacefully negotiate with China based on common interest and understanding,” he added. “The most important thing is that Cambodia needs to show them that good cooperation between Asean and China is a huge benefit for all.”