Sunday, July 31, 2016
Cambodia - FM: Cambodia ‘Rescued’ Asean-China Relationship
Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon defended Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea issue during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry yesterday, denying accusations that the Kingdom’s opposition to any joint Asean statement in support of the Philippines was tied to large loans and grants from China.
A number of Asean members disputing China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea wanted the regional bloc to release a statement condemning China’s actions and backing a recent verdict by the Court of Arbitration at The Hague in favor of the Philippines.
But at a recent meeting in Laos, multiple foreign ministries told news outlets that Cambodia fought against any potential statements, claiming the Philippines and China should work on the issue themselves.
On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said it was the Philippines’ own Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Perfecto Yasay, who asserted at the Asean meeting that the South China Sea dispute should be kept between his country and Beijing.
“So the foreign minister of the Philippines itself decided to remove and take out the issue of the verdict by the Court of Arbitration from the 49th Asean Foreign Minister’s Statement,” Mr. Sounry said.
At the press conference on Friday, Mr. Sokhon praised his efforts to “reduce tension” on the issue, saying the Court’s decision did nothing but increase animosity between both sides.
"Cambodia had a good purpose at heart to avoid serious tension, but [we] have been blamed for blocking the statement,” he said, adding that Cambodia did not benefit from supporting either side.
He tried to reframe the withering criticism Cambodia has faced for what many say is an open acceptance of Chinese aid in exchange for support within Asean.
"We made sure the relationship between Asean and China avoided breaking because of the dispute between the two countries. We have rescued this relationship,” he said.
He added that if Asean had added the South China Sea issue into the statement, it would have provoked a dispute between both sides and “broken” the Asean alliance.
He said the issue at this Asean conference was over one particular sentence containing the phrase “With Full Respect to the Legal Diplomatic process,” – referring to the legally binding decision by the Hague court. Mr. Sokhon said China wanted the line taken out because it referred specifically to the verdict.
He claimed Cambodia worked as a broker between China and the Philippines, facilitating conversation between both sides. The discussions lead to an agreement that allowed the Philippines to keep the phrase in the statement, but explicitly say that it only referred to Asean principles and not the South China Sea.
Just two weeks ago, China approved a $600 million grant to Cambodia for “electoral processes, health, education, clean water and wells,” according to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin has been in Beijing since Monday and asked Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, to help build a 12-story administration building at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.
“In that meeting, Samdech Heng Samrin asked the National People’s Congress to build an administration building for the National Assembly of Cambodia which has 12 floors,” a press release from the National Assembly said last Tuesday.
Mr. Samrin confirmed in a Facebook post on Friday that an agriculture conglomerate based in Quangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region would invest in banana plantations in Cambodia.
“Today, I visited Quangxi Jinsui Agriculture Investment Co., ltd, an agriculture company using modern technology to plant thousands of hectares of bananas,” he said. “The company was interested and pledged to invest in banana plantations in Cambodia sometime soon.”
Mr. Samrin met with Peng Qinhua, Communist Party Chief of Quangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and both sides said they would work together on “tourism, agriculture and fisheries.”
Mr. Qinhua said Chinese investors from Quangxi are planning to invest in rice mills in Cambodia, eventually shipping the rice internationally. Other companies said they were looking to start businesses in technology and agriculture.