21 April 2019
Phnom Penh supports Beijing's opposition to any ASEAN stand on the South China Sea.  Photo: Reuters
Phnom Penh supports Beijing's opposition to any ASEAN stand on the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters

ASEAN deadlocked on South China Sea, Cambodia blocks statement

Southeast Asian nations failed to agree on maritime disputes in the South China Sea after Cambodia blocked any mention to an international court ruling against Beijing in their statement, Reuters reports, citing diplomats.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday met in the Laotian capital of Vientiane for the first time since the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration handed an emphatic legal victory to the Philippines in the dispute this month.

The ruling by the court in The Hague denied China’s sweeping claims in the strategic seaway, through which more than US$5 trillion in global trade passes each year.

China claims most of the sea, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have rival claims.

Beijing says the ruling has no bearing on its rights in the sea, and described the case as a farce.

The Philippines and Vietnam both wanted the communique issued by ASEAN foreign ministers after their meeting to refer to the ruling and the need to respect international law, ASEAN diplomats said.

Their foreign ministers both discussed the ruling with ASEAN counterparts in Vientiane.

But before the meeting, China’s closest ASEAN ally Cambodia opposed the proposed wording, throwing the group into disarray.

Phnom Penh supports Beijing’s opposition to any ASEAN stand on the South China Sea, and its preference for dealing with the disputed claims on a bilateral basis.

“We are still working on it,” Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told Reuters after the meeting on Sunday, adding that she hoped the ASEAN members would reach an agreement.

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon declined to comment on his country’s position on Sunday.

Even after a late-night meeting of foreign ministers called to thrash out the issue late on Saturday, the region’s top diplomats were unable to find a compromise.

The group has given itself until Tuesday to come to issue a statement, said one ASEAN diplomat.

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