The Philippines said Tuesday it had summoned Cambodia’s ambassador to explain comments he made accusing it and Vietnam of playing “dirty politics” in trying to solve a maritime row with China.
The move appeared to further deepen divisions within the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), more than two weeks after a ministerial meeting hosted by Cambodia ended in disarray over the sea dispute.
Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said Cambodian ambassador Hos Sereythonh was asked Tuesday to personally explain his comments, but he failed to turn up claiming he was sick.
“We will continue to summon him until he is able to come,” Hernandez said in a statement.
“We want him to explain what he meant when he stated that the ‘inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of Asean is dirty politics’.”
The comments were in a letter Hos sent to the editor of the Philippine Star, one of the country’s leading newspapers, on Monday.
In the letter, Hos accused the Philippines and Vietnam of working to “sabotage and hijack the joint communique” during the Asean meeting.
Hos argued that the Philippines and Vietnam should not blame Cambodia for Asean’s failure to issue an end-of-meeting statement spelling concerns in the region, a first in its 45 year history.
Hos accused the two countries of playing “dirty politics”.
Hernandez on Tuesday charged that Cambodia, a close ally of China, rejected at least five final drafts of the joint statement that would have addressed the maritime row.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast natural resources.
But Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the area.
Tensions have escalated this year, with China becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with the Philippines and Vietnam.
Diplomats had said the Philippines called on its fellow Asean members at the Cambodia meeting to support it against China.
Indonesia’s foreign minister subsequently launched a mission to save the bloc’s ‘cohesiveness’, resulting in a belated statement affirming commitments to a proposed ‘code of conduct’ over the South China Sea.
Hos could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.