Philippines Wants China Out of Asean Talks

The rift between Cambodia and the Philippines over the role of China in addressing the South China Sea issue continued to widen yesterday, with the Philippines’ president telling his counterparts during an Asean Summit meeting that China should be left out of discussions on a legally-binding document for claimant states. “After the Code of Conduct has been finalized by Asean, then Asean member states will meet with China,” President Benigno Aquino said at the meeting, according to a statement released by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, which urged Asean states to reach an agreement among themselves before involving China.

Cambodia and the Philippines have been at loggerheads over what role China should play in the drafting of a long-awaited Code of Conduct (COC) to govern the resolution of conflicts in the highly disputed marginal sea.

Cambodia yesterday urged for China’s participation early on in discussions, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on the sidelines of the summit.

“I think the big disagreement this morning was the announcement by the [Asean] secretary-general [Surin Pitsuwan] that China might be invited to be part of the… drafting of the COC. We take the position that this should be an internal issue,” Mr. del Rosario said.

“Vietnam also followed suit when we made these observations. I believe that they need to have consensus if they’re going to pursue this and they will not have consensus,” he added.

Mr. del Rosario said that Cambodia was the only country seeking China’s involvement in drafting the COC. “I haven’t heard [that] from the other countries,” he said.

Although Cambodia said in the lead-up to the meeting that the issue of the South China Sea would not be on the Asean agenda, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it would be listed on the agenda during today’s meeting in addition to being broached yesterday.

An official from Cambodia, however, flatly denied that the South China Sea issue had been raised during the summit, insisting that only Asean-centered issues had been taken up in yesterday’s meeting of regional heads of state.

“The leaders did not really spend time to discuss this issue because some officials and the ministers already discussed it [Monday],” Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn said.

“But there was a reference that of course the leaders agreed not to discuss this issue because the language that they agreed to, which will be released in a statement, has been reached already.”

On Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and pledged to provide grants and loans totaling more than $70 million. At the same meeting, Mr. Hu asked Cambodia to ensure that the South China Sea issue was not raised at the Asean Summit among countries not directly involved in territorial disputes.

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