PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA— Cambodia's leader has publicly endorsed China's position that territorial disputes in the South China Sea cannot be solved through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday the issue should be solved by the countries directly affected by the disputes.
“Ultimately, it is not an issue for ASEAN as a whole. It is bilateral issue between the concerned countries, which need to talk between themselves," he said.
Beijing has said it only will negotiate territorial disputes in one-on-one negotiations and has rejected any multilateral venue for dealing with the issues.
But the Philippines and Vietnam, both members of ASEAN, have been pushing for a more regional and multi-lateral approach to the problem.
Although this is the first time Cambodia's leader has explicitly stated his position on the issue, Phnom Penh came under fire by some for its handling of the matter while it held the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012.
Referring to the rotating ASEAN chairmanship, Hun Sen defended Cambodia's leadership.
“After Cambodia, Brunei also could not find a solution; Myanmar failed as well. Now I am waiting to see if Malaysia will be able to solve the problem," said Hun Sen. "I can say, it will not be able to do so ... impossible. But they only blamed Cambodia, only Cambodia was wrong. I will wait to see the whole round.”
During the 2012 ASEAN summit, the regional leaders failed to issue a joint declaration. Critics said the failure was caused by Cambodia protecting China's position on the South China Sea issue.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition to Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have territorial disputes with China.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.