Following a speech from Prime Minister Hun Sen last week that warned of the potential perils of meddling in the South China Sea dispute, a statement allegedly endorsed by 147 unions and NGOs backs the government’s purported neutral stance on the issue.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to make a ruling on Tuesday in a case brought by the Philippines against China’s wide-reaching territorial claims in the sea, home to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Last week, Mr. Hun Sen said he was against what he described as backhanded efforts to get members of the Asean regional bloc to endorse a statement expressing support for whatever ruling comes out of the court, whose jurisdiction over the dispute Beijing has pre-emptively rejected.
A statement released on Monday voiced solidarity with the prime minister’s position. It claims support from 147 NGOs and unions but bears the names of only four, and only two of those are legible. The legible ones, the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia and the Cambodia Federation for Human Rights and Development, are little known.
“We all support the government’s stance to not issue any statement to support the court’s verdict in relation to the dispute on South China Sea,” the statement said.
The statement also appealed to countries involved in the dispute to “not use force, or threaten to use force, in relation to [the] South China issue.”
Despite the government’s claims of neutrality, Cambodia has been widely accused of backing China in its territorial wranglings and of sabotaging efforts within Asean to form a united front against Beijing’s claims.
When Cambodia was the chair of Asean in 2012, it blocked attempts to reference a naval dispute between China and the Philippines in a joint communique intended to cap a foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh. The meeting ended in acrimony as the block for the first time failed to end the annual meeting with a joint statement.
Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines all have conflicting claims with China.