Cambodia will work at strengthening China’s ties to Asean as the designated chair of the regional body for 2012, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said yesterday in Phnom Penh upon returning with Prime Minister Hun Sen from Asean’s latest leaders’ summit in Bali.
“China has designated the year 2012 as the year of ‘friendship and good cooperation’ between China and Asean countries. In 2012 Cambodia is chairman of Asean,” he said. “So it is a very important role for Cambodia…to make better relations between the Asean countries and China.”
To cement Cambodia’s new role, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono handed over the ceremonial gavel of the 2012 Asean chair to Prime Minister Hun Sen in Bali on Saturday.
Mr Namhong said China’s plans for Asean will be coming with a new $10 billion in aid to Asean—$4 billion as low interest concessional loans from the government, the rest as Chinese bank loans for upgrading the region’s infrastructure. He said China would dedicate another 3 million yuan, or about $473,000, to study ways of connecting itself with Asean “via the sea.”
That sea would be the South China Sea, whose resource-rich bed has triggered a new round of flared tensions over territorial claims among China and the other countries that ring the waters.
Though Mr Namhong made no mention of those tensions, he said the Asean leaders did recommit themselves to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which calls on them to settle disputes of jurisdiction peacefully and in line with international law.
China’s growing ties to the region also come amid America’s intentions to do the same. At the East Asia Summit last week, also in Bali, US President Barack Obama announced his country’s own plans to step up its military and economic activity in East Asia.
As for the Asean summit, Mr Namhong said the premier also held one-on-one meetings with some fellow heads of state.
In a meeting with Mr Susilo, he said the premier asked Indonesia to remain prepared to send observers to a disputed stretch of the Thai-Cambodian border where four days of deadly fighting broke out in February.
Though Bangkok and Phnom Penh quickly accepted Indonesia’s offer—as the then-head of Asean—to send observers, Bangkok has yet to sign off on the terms.
The International Court of Justice subsequently ordered Thai and Cambodian troops out of a newly drawn demilitarized zone around Preah Vihear temple and urged them to let observers in, though neither side has complied with that order either. Mr Namhong said a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting of the General Border Committee—a military-to-military body co-chaired by Thailand and Cambodia that meets irregularly—would settle that.
“The withdrawal of troops from the demilitarized zone must wait for the General Border Committee meeting…to set the exact date for the withdrawal of troops,” he said. “The withdrawal…must have Indonesian observers, so Samdech [Mr Hun Sen] asked Indonesia to keep up its work on the Thai-Cambodian issue in terms of Asean.”
Also at the summit, Mr Namhong said, the leaders agreed to set up an “Asean Center” for monitoring humanitarian aid and water management across the region, and to commission Japan for a study of the impacts of damming the Mekong River. Though the study proposes to look at both the lower and upper stretches of the river, China has to date been reluctant to share data about its plans for the river.