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ASEAN ministerial meetings steeped in regional, global tensions

US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken attends Asean-United States Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, August 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken attends Asean-United States Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, August 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

ASEAN foreign ministers’ meetings with diplomats from world powers this week took place amid various geopolitical tensions, with a Cambodian official on Thursday calling any response by China to tensions with the U.S. over Taiwan “China’s internal affairs.”

The remark comes during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh this week, which has been clouded by various regional and global conflicts, including the Russia-Ukraine war, Myanmar crisis and ongoing tensions between China and the U.S. over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and China’s military exercises in waters off Taiwan’s coasts.

On Thursday, Kung Phoak, secretary of state at Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters after diplomatic meetings that while all partner nations pledged for stronger cooperation with ASEAN in various sectors, especially trade and economic cooperation, tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the Russia-Ukraine war were also raised.

“When asked how China will respond to the Taiwan Strait issue, it is China’s internal affairs and China does not need to raise the issue to ASEAN,” Phoak said.

His comment follows an ASEAN foreign ministers’ statement on Wednesday that called for “maximum restraint” and “refrain from provocative action” in relation to the Taiwan Strait tensions.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers have a group photo during the 23rd ASEAN Plus three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, August 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

On Thursday, China conducted military exercises near Taiwan’s coast, including “precision missile strikes,” the Associated Press reported. The exercises followed the visit by Pelosi and other U.S. lawmakers this week to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, part of the country’s “One-China Policy.”

In their statement, ASEAN ministers reiterated their nations’ support for “their respective One-China Policy,” and voiced concern regarding international and regional tensions that could “destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.”

China is one of Cambodia’s top allies, with Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterating the two nations’ “ironclad” relations this week. Meanwhile, U.S.-Cambodia relations have soured in recent years, most visibly over U.S. criticisms of human rights abuses in Cambodia and U.S. claims that Cambodia gave China exclusive access to a naval base off Sihanoukville, which both China and Cambodia have denied.

“We should ACT TOGETHER and ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue between all parties,” the Asean ministers’ statement said.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, foreign ministers of the G7 nations, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., as well as the E.U., voiced concerns over “threatening actions by [China], particularly live-fire exercises and economic coercion, which risk unnecessary escalation.”

“There is no justification to use a visit [by legislators] as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait,” the statement said.

China’s foreign affair minister Wang Yi attends the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, August 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Following the G7 statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry canceled a planned bilateral meeting in Phnom Penh between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Thursday that Japan had joined G7 members and the EU in endorsing a statement that contained “groundless accusations against China, confounds black and white and tries to justify the US’s infringement on China’s sovereignty.”

This week, Hun Sen has held bilateral meetings with major powers, including the U.S., China and Russia, to discuss bilateral cooperation and regional and global challenges.

In a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Hun Sen pledged to strengthen relations and cooperation in various sectors.

In another meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Hun Sen called for a review of sanctions against Russia, which he said have not only affected Russia but also the world economy, including Cambodia.

Asean-Russia Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, August 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Phoak, the Foreign Affairs Ministry official, told reporters on Thursday that Russia had explained the reasons that led to the war in Ukraine to ASEAN leaders, without elaborating.

“[We] did not discuss to find the way out, but Russia has openly stated that it is ready to enter the negotiating table,” Phoak said. “However, ASEAN is ready if they see that the ASEAN forum is useful for them to find a solution.”

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