Asean Summit Breaks Up in Acrimony

By webadmin on 01:18 pm Jul 13, 2012
Category Archive

Michelle Fitzpatrick

Phnom Penh. Days of heated diplomacy ended in failure on Friday as splits over
territorial disputes with China prevented Southeast Asian nations from
issuing their customary joint statement.

Foreign
ministers from the 10-member Asean bloc have this week tried to hammer
out a final communique in Cambodia, which has held up progress on a
draft code of conduct aimed at soothing tension in the flashpoint South
China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the
resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but the
Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei among others have competing
claims in the area.

The Philippines lambasted the failure at the
summit, saying “it deplores the non-issuance of a joint communique…
which was unprecedented in Asean’s 45-year existence.”

It had
insisted that Asean refer to a stand-off last month with China over a rocky
outcrop known as the Scarborough Shoal, but Cambodia — a Beijing ally
and chair of the meeting — resisted.

Taking “strong exception” to
Cambodia for opposing mention of the shoal, the Philippine statement
said divisions undercut previous Asean agreements on tackling disputes
as a unit, “and not in a bilateral fashion — the approach which its
northern neighbor (China) has been insisting on.”

China is a key
bankroller of Cambodia and some diplomats said Phnom Penh had played
Beijing’s hand at the summit by blocking a communique mentioning
specific alleged infringements.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor
Namhong expressed regret at the discord within the organization, but
said he could “not accept that the joint communique has become the
hostage of the bilateral issue (between the Philippines and China.”

US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who joined the summit on Thursday, had
expressed hope of Asean unity and had urged progress on the code of
conduct, which is seen as reducing the chances of conflict in the South
China Sea.

Analysts said the friction could “contaminate” future negotiations between Asean and China.

“Cambodia
is showing itself as China’s stalking horse. This will make negotiating
a final code of conduct with China more difficult,” said Southeast Asia
expert Carl Thayer, who runs a consultancy. “I find it difficult to believe that ASEAN foreign ministers cannot come up with some formulation that satisfies all parties.”

Agence France-Presse