Tensions flare over South China Sea at Asian summit

Mon Nov 19, 2012 7:57am EST
 

By Jason Szep and James Pomfret

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Japan warned on Monday that a row over the South China Sea could damage "peace and stability" in Asia as China stalled on a plan to ease tensions and disagreements flared between the Philippines and Cambodia over the dispute.

The acrimony provided an uneasy backdrop to U.S. President Barack Obama's arrival in Cambodia for a regional summit where he is expected to urge China and Southeast Asian nations to resolve the row, one of Asia's biggest security issues.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda challenged efforts by summit host Cambodia, a staunch China ally, to limit discussions on the mineral-rich sea, where China's territorial claims overlap those of four Southeast Asian countries and of Taiwan.

"Prime Minister Noda raised the issue of the South China Sea, noting that this is of common concern for the international community, which would have direct impact on peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific," a Japanese government statement said after Noda met leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

That followed a statement on Sunday from Kao Kim Hourn, a Cambodian foreign ministry official, who said Southeast Asian leaders "had decided that they will not internationalize the South China Sea from now on."

In a sign of tension, Philippine President Benigno Aquino disputed the Cambodian statement and said no such agreement was reached, voicing his objections in tense final minutes of discussions between Noda and Southeast Asian leaders.

As Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen began to conclude the meeting with Noda, Aquino abruptly raised his hand and tersely interjected.

"There were several views expressed yesterday on ASEAN unity which we did not realize would be translated into an ASEAN consensus," he said, according to his spokesman. "For the record, this was not our understanding. The ASEAN route is not the only route for us. As a sovereign state, it is our right to defend our national interests."   Continued...

 
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda attend an ASEAN Plus Three session of the 21st ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj