Hun Sen and the South China Sea

The Khmer Times, 22 June 2016

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who appeared to be furious, slammed the Philippines on Monday over what he described as its unrealistic diplomatic efforts to convince Cambodia to support a ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at The Hague in the Netherlands, which is about to be issued.
The behavior of the Philippines, he said, was an act of dividing Asean and using Cambodia to counter China.
“Cambodia will not be the puppet of any country,” he said.
The Philippines had walked out from bilateral negotiations with China and the dialogue mechanism between China and Asean. The Philippines also did not consult Asean before bringing its case to the international court, he added.
Mr. Hun Sen also perceives the arbitration as politically motivated. “The court ruling will not be fair,” he said.
“This is not about laws, it is totally about politics. I will not support any judgment by the court,” he said, adding that the case was a “political conspiracy between some countries and the court.”
In 2013, the Philippines brought the case on territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea to the International Court and claimed China’s territorial claims and activity in the South China Sea were contrary to international law. But China refused to participate in the case.
The tribunal is not going to adjudicate on the competing sovereignty claims, only on the maritime rights that are attached to those claims. The intention is to question the legal validity of China’s nine-dash lines, which cover almost 90 percent of the South China Sea.
It will also question China’s artificial islands in the disputed areas.
The ruling will create a new wave of tension in the region and seriously impact on the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region. Confrontations between China and the US are going to rise and Asean’s role and image will be further challenged and tested.
There will be increased pressure on Asean unity.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also laid out three approaches towards the South China Sea disputes.
First, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) needs to be strictly observed and implemented. Second, Asean and China need to realize the Code of Conduct (COC).
Third, and most importantly, the disputes must be resolved by the direct claimant states.
He also noted that the COC is not an instrument to resolve sovereignty disputes. The direct claimants need to resolve the disputes by themselves, he said.
For instance, he added, China and Vietnam have effectively managed their territorial disputes, particularly on land boundary demarcation. Strong economic relations between China and Vietnam will prevent these two countries from having conflicts.
From now on, he said, Cambodia will not talk about the South China Sea disputes at any “inappropriate forums.”
External actors should not intervene into the disputes, he added.
“Please don’t add fuel to the fire, don’t take sides,” he insisted.
“The South China Sea disputes are not between Asean and China. They are between the direct claimant states,” he said. Asean does not have a mandate to resolve territorial disputes.
China and Asean share common interests and have a lot of room for cooperation.
In 2012, Cambodia as the chair of Asean was accused of siding with China in blocking the 45th Asean foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh from issuing a joint statement.
Again, at the China-Asean foreign ministers meeting last week in Kunming, Cambodia and Laos were accused of spoiling Asean’s united front against China.
PM Hun Sen has tried several times to defend and clarify Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea disputes, but failed to convince some other Asean friends.
“Cambodia is independent. Cambodia is not a puppet. Cambodia just wants justice,” he said, adding that the disputes need to be resolved peacefully.
He urged all parties directly concerned not to use force or threaten to use force and to strictly implement the DOC and work together to realize the COC.
He reiterated that the main reasons for Cambodia joining Asean in the late 1990s were the principles of non-interference, consensus-based decision-making, economic integration and development and diplomatic outreach to the region and the world at large.

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