Indonesian Foreign Chief to Arrive to Salvage Sea Dispute Talks

As the dust settles over last week’s tense Asean Summit, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is scheduled to return to Cambodia and meet with Foreign Minister Hor Nam­hong today in an attempt to pick up the pieces and broker a consensus on the contentious issue of the South China Sea.

“The subject will certainly be on Asean and will likely be on the discussions last week,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn, when asked whether the meeting would touch upon the South China Sea.

Cambodia, as this year’s Asean chair, has shouldered most of the blame for the breakdown in discussions over the drafting of a closing statement from the meetings, with some analysts pointing to Cambodia’s warm relationship with China as a possible cause for the problems.

After several days of increasingly tense meetings, the summit closed without a joint statement—a first in its 45-year history—and, with Asean divided, it looked unlikely that the 10-member bloc would ever get China to sign a Code of Conduct (COC) on disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Philippines—which disputes part of the sea with Chi­na—blamed Cambodia for opposing the inclusion of a recent escalation in the dispute around the Scarbor­ough Shoal.

Mr. Natalegawa said his trip across Southeast Asia was part of an attempt to get Asean members to come to a consensus.

“Our aim is to create more in­tensive communications and seek a mutual position among Asean member states on the South China Sea issue. I hope my counterparts will be eager to convey

all their views,” Mr. Nata­legawa said, according to the Ja­karta Post.

In Manila, the first leg of Mr. Nata­legawa’s tour, the foreign minister met with his counterpart to discuss—in the terse words of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs—the “future of Asean.”

“The two Foreign Ministers discussed bilateral issues, as well as regional matters specifically on how to move Asean forward. Both ministers agreed on the basic principles on how to reinforce the ten-member organization, in view of the failure of Asean to issue a Joint Communique at the close of the 45th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh last week,” the Phil­ippines Department of Foreign Af­fairs said in a statement.

Cambodia seems willing to ac­cept help from Indonesia, which as last year’s Asean chair helped mediate between Thailand and Cambodia during discussions over disputed land surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming Marty in Cambodia,” said Mr. Kim Hourn. “We, of course, appreciate his role. When Indo­nesia was [Asean] chair last year, he was quite constructive.”

But analysts say the fallout from last week’s meetings could last a while longer.

“Our performance, or lack of performance during the last Asean meeting, will not help us. So I think Indonesia, and other countries of course, need to help salvage the situation,” said political analyst Lao Mong Hay.

“I think as chair, we have lost credibility. Around the world, we have been seen as being subserv­ient to China. I think, for Asean’s sake, I wish Indonesia will succeed.”

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