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Cambodian diplomat who criticized Philippines over territorial claims summoned

MANILA (Mindanao Examiner / July 31, 2012) – The Philippines on Tuesday summoned Cambodia’s Ambassador to Manila Hos Sereythonh, who criticized the country’s territorial dispute with China.

The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Sereythonh to explain his statement published in newspapers, but the diplomat sent his deputy Tan Chandaravuth instead.

Chandaravuth was handed a note verbale by Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio to express the government’s displeasure over the ambassador’s comments.

Sereythonh was quoted as saying that the Philippines, including Vietnam, have the most number of confrontations with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea, are playing “dirty politics.”

“We want to know where the ambassador obtained the information on the events as narrated in his letter since these are not consistent with the records of the ASEAN meetings,” Hernandez said in a news conference in Manila.

The rift started when ASEAN failed to come up with the joint statement as Cambodia, a known Chinese ally, insistently blocked moves to mention the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China in the proposed communiqué.

Vietnam also wanted to include in the document recent incidents of China’s incursions in its waters.

“In contradiction, we understand that the chair appointed a committee, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which had full authority if it could reach a consensus on the final draft,” Hernandez said.

Yet even after five final drafts had the approval of all nine ASEAN members, it was disapproved by Cambodia, he said.

ASEAN groups Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

After the Phnom Penh meetings, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio issued a public statement explaining that the ASEAN failed to come up with a communiqué due to Cambodia’s firm position not to reflect the recent developments in the South China Sea.

That, despite the view of the majority of the bloc’s members these developments impinge on the overall security of the region.

In response, the Cambodian ambassador sent a letter to the Philippine Star accusing the Philippines and Vietnam of “sabotaging” the group statement because of their insistence on inserting the sea disputes in the proposed document.

The Cambodian envoy’s biting criticisms against the Philippines and Vietnam are the latest twist in the brewing animosity between this year’s host of ASEAN’s revolving chairmanship and Chinese ally Cambodia on one side and Manila and Hanoi on the other over the territorial disputes that is threatening to divide the regional bloc.

While some members like the Philippines and Vietnam are aligned with the United States and other Western countries calling for a rules-based and multilateral approach in solving the disputes, others members aligned to China like Cambodia and Laos toe Beijing’s line either by not openly backing a multilateral approach or opposing it outright.

The Philippines and Vietnam have accused Beijing of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its claims in the West Philippine Sea, or also known as the South China Sea.

The vast waters are strategic and resource-rich waterway where more than 50 percent of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage passes each year.

The area had been a source of conflict among rival claimants China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Overlapping claims to the contested waters, islands and reefs, where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas, has been feared to be Asia’s next potential flashpoint for war.

Hernandez challenged the Cambodian envoy to prove his allegations and asked him to speak the truth on the outcome of the meetings in Phnom Penh.

“As a matter of courtesy to our Cambodian friends, we will ask the ambassador if he can kindly authorize the release to the public of evidence which should end all speculation on what really happened in Phnom Penh,” Hernandez said.

He said the department will keep on summoning the Cambodian ambassador “until he is able to come to the DFA.”

“We also intend to show the Cambodian ambassador why the ASEAN chair was being viewed as unduly advancing a NON-ASEAN country’s interest, with a clear prejudice to positions of the Philippines and Vietnam, members of ASEAN,” Hernandez said.

Asked if there is a possibility that the Cambodian envoy would be declared persona non grata or “unacceptable” for issuing offensive remarks against the host government, Hernandez said: “We’re not going there yet.”

“What is important is for him to explain to us what he meant by his statements,” Hernandez said. (With a report from Michaela del Callar)

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