A Year On, Cambodia’s Role as Asean Chairman a Bitter Memory

Resentment is still simmering toward Cambodia for its handling of the contentions South China Sea issue last year, which fractured the unity of Asean, analysts from around the region said Thursday. During the first day of a two-day regional conference in Phnom Penh organized by the Cambodian Institute for Co­operation and Peace, experts from countries around the region spoke about the challenges facing Asean in its dealings with China on a maritime dispute in the South China Sea. … Tensions escalated last year during Cambodia’s chairmanship of Asean when officials did everything possible to keep the territorial dispute off the agenda, which for the first time in Asean’s history, led to a failure to release a final joint communique. … Carolina Hernandez, chief ex­ecutive officer of the Philip­pines’ Institute for Strategic and De­velopment Studies, said on the sidelines of the conference on Thursday that the issue of the South China Sea can either unite the regional body or be a source of friction. “[The Cambodian] government was accountable for the non-adoption of a joint communique at the end of the 2012 [Asean Defense Ministers Meeting] for the first time in the 45-year history of this body,” Ms. Hernandez said. “It is an issue that can be a litmus test for Asean’s centrality.”

Hul Reaksmey and Dene-Hern Chen