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Hun Sen calls states to negotiate
PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen, as current Chair of ASEAN, has urged parties to South China Sea disputes to be patient as completing a proposed Code of Conduct (COC) continues to be Cambodia’s big task.
The COC would be a legal framework for rules and standards that will maintain regional peace and stability.
At the World Economic Forum on Strategic Aspects of ASEAN in Davos, Switzerland, on May 24, the Prime Minister said Cambodia did not want to be a judge in the disputes. He called on all parties to settle disputes peacefully and work to achieve a draft code.
He also urged all parties to strictly abide by the Declaration of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (DOC), which stipulates freedom of navigation, maritime navigation and compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. ASEAN is drafting the code.
“So, we demand all parties to fully abide by the DOC. The countries involved should be patient and coordinate on this issue,” Hun Sen said.
“Cambodia is not a claimant state, but it also demands stakeholders to resolve bilateral issues where they can. And they should try to work together on building a code of conduct for the South China Sea."
He affirmed that he would urge China as well as ASEAN countries to negotiate and seek a solution but as ASEAN chairman, he was unsure to what extent Cambodia could facilitate the code.
“We are really trying to achieve it this year. However, we remain doubtful about how much we can achieve,” he said.
For the Prime Minister, if the COC is to be agreed, maritime disputes will no longer be a hot topic for the regional grouping as the code will set out rules and responsibilities.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Hun Sen was right to emphasize the need for strict adherence to international legal instruments like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), DOC and seeking solutions to disputes.
“I totally agreed with PM Hun Sen’s decision. It’s a right decision for Cambodia’s foreign policies because only peaceful means and negotiation based on law can solve it peacefully,” Phea said.
It also showed that the ASEAN chairman wants to see disputes solved peacefully, so all the relevant states must comply with the DOC as a basic tool to solve disputes.
Phea said the Prime Minister’s statement also called on all parties to respect the laws, and this means even a major country like China should also respect the laws.
“This stance indicates Cambodia’s neutrality and it helps straighten relations with China as well as ASEAN claimant states,” he added.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and China are involved in South China Sea disputes. China has claimed almost all of the disputed zone based on historical reasons while other claimant states cite legal reasons.
ASEAN countries prefer multilateral mechanism to solve disputes but China wants issues to be resolved between individual countries, which the Philippines has always opposed.
China has also been accused of militarizing the South China Sea as it has constructing military facilities and islands in that area. In March, the US said China had militarized three of the islands by arming them with fighter jets, anti-ship systems and other military facilities.