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Thayer Consultancy

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Background Briefing: Cambodia as ASEAN Chair or Chinas Stalking Horse? Carlyle A. Thayer July 13, 2012

[client name deleted] Q1`. Could you provide your assessment of ASEANs failure to reach consensus on the South China Sea issue? ANSWER: It is necessary to distinguish between the ASEAN Code of Conduct and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Joint Statement following their ministerial meeting. ASEAN has reached agreement by consesnus on the key elements in the Code of Conduct. But as of today ASEAN has not been able to agree to the wording of that section of the Foreign Ministers Joint Statement that refers to their discussions on the South China Sea. The key sticking point appears to be whether or not to include an explicit reference to Scarborough Shoal, and possibly the leases offered by China National Offshore Oil Company that fall within Vietnams Exclusive Economic Zone. I find it difficult to believe that ASEAN foreign ministers cannot come up with some formulation that satisfies all parties. They could, for example, agree to disagree and note the differing positions. This could include linking Scarborough Shoal to the Philippines and a more general reference to "recent incidents in the South China Sea" to satisfy Cambodia. Q2. Specifically, what does it mean in terms of future maritime disputes? How much stronger is China's position? ANSWER: It is significant to note that Indonesia used particularly strong words to describe the impasse. US officials were kinder describing the impasse as part of the normal process of ASEAN's maturing as an organisation. More specifically, the strong currents of disagreement over the wording of the Joint Statement reveal the worst fears of ASEAN's founding members - that external powers would intrude in regional affairs. ASEAN stands for the defence of Southeast Asian autonomy from external power intrusion and pressure. It is likely that the friction over the wording of the Joint Statement will spill over and contaminate the negotiating process between ASEAN members and China. Cambodia is showing itself as China's stalking horse. This will make negotiating a final Code of Conduct with China more difficult. It is doubtful that the Philippines and perhaps other members of ASEAN can trust Cambodia to keep their negotiating position confidential. Hun Sen is no international statesman. He is a bully adept at

2 intimidating his domestic opponents. He bears grudges and as long as Cambodia is ASEAN's Chair he will brazen it out. His end game is that China will continue its support next year when Cambodia steps down as ASEAN Chair.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, Cambodia as ASEAN Chair or Chinas Stalking Horse, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 13, 2012.