Cambodia Urges Patience in Making Asean, N Korea Statements

During Asean’s 50-year anniversary, the Cambodian government encouraged members of the regional bloc to exercise patience in drafting statements against North Korean missile use in order to minimize regional tensions, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn said at a briefing following his return from Manila.

Dialogue between countries claiming the disputed South China Sea has led to improved relations between Vietnam, the Philippines and China, he said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, previous Asean statements against North Korea have only increased antagonism, he said.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn gives a briefing on this week’s 50-year Asean anniversary meeting at the ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh on Wednesday morning. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We always strongly urge all parties to be patient,” Mr.

Sokhonn said at the media briefing in Phnom Penh. Strongly-worded past statements were futile as “we are not finding justice for anyone. We want to find a balance in the statements.”

Strong words raise tensions, he said, pointing to recent rhetoric from the U.S. against North Korea, which Mr. Sokhonn said had created “greater anger and worsens the situation with higher risk” for everyone.

In the past week, North Korea’s state-run media threatened missile attacks on the U.S. territory of Guam and U.S. President Donald Trump warned of “fire and fury” if the threats continued. Mr. Sokhonn nevertheless stated that North Korea’s recent missile tests were out of line.

“All Asean countries are unhappy with North Korea’s activities that have continued to violate the U.N. agreement,” he said. “It is an insult to the international community as a whole and a threat to regional peace and stability…. [Prime Minister] Hun Sen asks North Korea to reconsider its activity—to give up its nuclear missile testing.”

According to the Associated Press, Cambodia took issue with Asean’s draft statement on North Korea during negotiations over the weekend, and sought wording that was less forceful.

Political analyst Meas Nee said Cambodia’s relative support for North Korea among Asean states was likely a legacy of long-running diplomatic ties dating back to the 1960s when the late King Norodom Sihanouk formed a personal friendship with North Korea’s founding President Kim Il Sung.

“This is how Cambodia feels: not favoring North Korea, but showing sympathy,” he said.

In May, he added, Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he had plans to visit the country himself to persuade the country’s leader out of launching a war due to these long-running diplomatic ties his father had started.

Still, Mr. Nee said, there was little incentive for Cambodia to remain quiet on the issue as “we haven’t seen any benefit from North Korea.”

But Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University’s College of Asean Community Studies in Thailand, said this was another show of loyalty to China.

“Cambodia is urging all sides to be patient and de-escalate precisely because the Hun Sen government is playing the role of a country which appears most neutral in this affair but which is also trying to show China that it is Beijing’s most loyal ally among ASEAN states,” he said in an email. “After all, though Cambodia’s advice is generally meant for North Korea, the words of Prak specifically imply that Washington must be patient.”

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