Cambodia is backing China in its argument that territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be addressed between claimants and not by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
As reported by Reuters, Cambodia’s intervention is a rare foray by a non-claimant state into the most sensitive issue facing the ASEAN.
“Territorial claims in the South China Sea must be settled with countries involved,” Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Soeung Rathchavy told reporters after a meeting of diplomats from the 28 countries.
“ASEAN can’t settle this dispute. We are not a legal institution, it’s the court that settles who’s right and wrong,” he added.
China claims 90% of the strategic waters. Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims.
When Cambodia served as the rotating ASEAN chair, it refused to take a position on China’s actions in the South China Sea.
According to Reuters, China provides substantial economic and military support to Cambodia, its closest ally in Southeast Asia, but denies influencing its actions within ASEAN.
But Soeung Rathchavy insists Cambodia is not under China’s influence. “We are neutral, China is not just a close friend with Cambodia but also with other countries which have made noises,” she said.