Cambodia told China on Saturday it wanted Asia to resolve the South China Sea dispute, as Phnom Penh prepares to host a regional summit where the maritime row is likely to surface.
Prime minister Hun Sen told visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao he wanted the simmering conflict to be resolved within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) framework so it doesn’t become more “complex”, according to the premier’s advisor Sri Thamrong.
“Our position is that we want each involved country to resolve the issue within the framework of Asean and China, not to internationalise it,” Sri told reporters after talks between the two leaders in the Cambodian capital.
“But the prime minister said we are also facing difficulties because during the summit, other leaders could bring up the issue and we can’t ban them from talking.”
China and Taiwan claim all of the South China Sea, while four Asean countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Asean leaders are holding a two-day gathering in Phnom Penh next week, and the Philippines is among the countries expected to raise the conflict in the South China Sea, which has seen several incidents recently between claimants.
Hu’s four-day visit is the first by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and observers say it is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current Asean chair, and perhaps encourage the hosts to keep the maritime row off the summit agenda.
The region is a conduit for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas, and major petroleum deposits are believed to lie below the seabed.
Beijing opposes internationalising the conflict and prefers to negotiate with its weaker regional neighbours individually rather than collectively. Hu is set to leave Cambodia on Monday, a day before the Asean summit opens.