Nov 19, 2012

Cambodia - South China Sea issue not 'barrier' to ties

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Wen arrives in Phnom Penh for meetings with regional leaders

China and Cambodia agreed on Sunday that the South China Sea issue should not be a stumbling block for relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The agreement was reached during talks between visiting Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen.

According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, broad agreement was also reached on the issue during talks, also on Sunday, between Wen and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Qin said Asean countries reached consensus that the South China Sea issue should not be internationalised or be a barrier between China and Asean, adding consultations with Asean nations were ongoing.

Wen is currently visiting Cambodia ahead of a series of meetings with East Asian leaders. These meetings, the 15th summit between China and Asean, as well as the 15th summit between Asean, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, will start on Monday and Wen will also attend the seventh East Asia Summit, which will be also attended by the US President Barack Obama.

Cambodia holds the Asean chair this year.

Wen and Hun Sen also witnessed the signing of a number of economic deals, aimed at boosting Cambodia's infrastructure.

Analysts said China's aid is not only beneficial to the economic development of Cambodia, but also conducive to narrowing the development gap within Asean.

The two leaders pledged to expand cooperation in all fields and to double trade to US$5 billion by 2017.

Before to the talks, Wen paid tribute to former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk at the capital's Royal Palace. Sihanouk passed away at the age of 90 in Beijing last month.

Wen also held talks with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath.

Fu Xuezhang, a former Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, said the death of Sihanouk will not change the direction of relations as both countries share similar policies at home and abroad - developing their domestic economies and maintaining diplomatic independence. "Cambodia, which has suffered from conflict for decades, always prioritises development and stability, while cooperation with China has been helping it to achieve these goals," he said.

China is now Cambodia's largest foreign investor. In 2011, trade was around US$2.5 billion, a 73.5 per cent surge on the previous year. However, the number is dwarfed by the value of trade of other Southeast Asian countries with China.

Gong Yingchun, an associate professor with the Beijing-based China Foreign Affairs University said Asia is experiencing downward pressure, and for those Southeast Asian countries cooperation with China is inevitable and is even on the top of their agendas.

Qin Jize and Zhao Shengnan

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