Staunch China ally Cambodia is preventing Southeast Asia from reaching a consensus on the South China Sea after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s territorial claims to the waters, a diplomat said Saturday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is meeting in Laos for the first time since the UN-backed tribunal ruled earlier this month that China did not have historic rights to vast swathes of the strategic sea.
The issue is expected to overshadow the summit, with several of the 10 member states also claiming territory in the contested waters.
China invests heavily across ASEAN but is accused of trying to divide the bloc by habitually offering aid, soft loans and diplomatic support to key allies Laos and Cambodia.
A Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP Saturday that only Cambodia is standing in the way of a joint statement on the waters.
“It’s very grave. Cambodia just opposes almost everything, even reference to respect for legal and diplomatic processes which already has been in previous statements,” the diplomat said.
A draft of the communique obtained by AFP showed the section titled “South China Sea” currently blank.
Communist-ruled Laos also has close links with Beijing and has been accused of preventing a united front on the South China Sea issue.
But diplomats said as the chair of ASEAN this year Laos is trying to see a statement produced even if it is watered down.
“It does not need to take sides because even if only one country opposes, there is no consensus,” the diplomat told AFP.
Another regional diplomat said Friday that negotiations appeared to be at a deadlock.