A week after the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) on July 9-13 in Phnom Penh, which ended without the issuance of ASEAN’s traditional Joint Communique, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers agreed on ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles to deal with the South China Sea issue. The Statement of ASEAN Foreign Ministers on ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea was issued on July 20.
However, we have noted with deep disappointment that during the last two weeks, there has been a lot of media attention across the region (including The Japan Times July 21 editorial “Divisions serve to weaken ASEAN“) that has turned the issue into a polemic.
Critically, some media have gone as far as to try to paint a bleak picture of Cambodia’s Chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As Chair of ASEAN, while deeply regretting the nonissuance of the Joint Communique, the Embassy wishes to clarify Cambodia’s view and position:
● Over the past 45 years, it was the first time that two ASEAN member states had “hijacked” the AMM by making the inclusion of a direct reference to their bilateral disputes in the South China Sea as a sine qua non for their endorsement of the 45th AMM’s Joint Communique.
● Of the more than 130 key points in the Joint Communique, there was only one point on which the ASEAN Foreign Ministers could not reach consensus. It should be noted that Cambodia’s proposal was accepted by all ASEAN Foreign Ministers, except by the two ASEAN member states having bilateral territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
● Cambodia’s position of principle is that ASEAN should not take sides. As a matter of practice, the Joint Communique of the previous AMM only mentioned the issue of the South China Sea in general, and made no reference to any specific islands or areas in the South China Sea.
● The AMM is not a court that can rule against or in favor of anybody in relation to bilateral disputes.
● As the ASEAN Chair, and as it is the role of the Chair of any meeting, Cambodia tried to prevent the dispute from further flaring up and to avoid adding fuel to the fire. Cambodia’s intention is to leave the door open for future talks by the countries concerned.
● The assertion that Cambodia’s loyalty has been “bought” by China in relation to the South China Sea issue is intellectually ludicrous. If the position taken by Cambodia is seen as having been “bought” by a larger nation, then could the same be said of the position taken by other sovereign states if it appears to be in line with that of a more powerful nation?
Cambodia is only trying to be neutral in bilateral disputes. If Cambodia is seen as a “paid proxy” for receiving large investments from a foreign country, then the same could be said of other countries that receive large investments from foreign countries.
The Embassy wishes to draw readers’ attention to the fact that the Statement of ASEAN Foreign Ministers on ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea makes no direct reference to any bilateral dispute, and that the position expressed in the Statement is the same as that which Cambodia had proposed during several restricted meetings but which were flatly rejected by the two ASEAN members with bilateral disputes in the South China Sea.
This makes one wonder whether there was a plan to sabotage the 45th AMM and put the blame on the ASEAN Chair when the same position put forth by the latter was not accepted by the two countries. The Embassy hopes that this clarification helps readers understand the root cause of this complicated issue.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.