A meeting of southeast Asian diplomats ended in acrimony over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Diplomats could not even agree on a joint communiqué at the end of negotiations.
Southeast Asia's main political bloc failed to issue a joint communiqué at the end of its forum in Cambodia on Friday, after a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea threw negotiations into gridlock.
The 10-members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had announced earlier in the week that they had drafted a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended the forum, had encouraged the development.
But the ASEAN talks ended in acrimony due to on-going tensions between China and Philippines. In April, Manila accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in the uninhabited Scarborough Shoal, leading to a stand off between Philippine and Chinese warships.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have territorial claims in the South China Sea. But China claims sovereignty over nearly the entire resource-rich waters.
Both the Philippines and Vietnam wanted to include a statement in the final communiqué about the South China Sea dispute, a move that Chinese-ally Cambodia resisted.
Manila said it "deplores the non-issuance of a joint communiqué… which was unprecedented in ASEAN's 45 year existence."
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong denied accusations of protecting Beijing's interests, saying instead that Phnom Penh was attempting to prevent the dispute from disrupting the talks.
"I requested that we issue the join communiqué without mention of the South China Sea disputed," Namhong said. "But some member countries repeatedly insisted to put the issue of the Scarborough Shoal."
"I have told my colleagues that the meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers is not a court, a place to give a verdict about the dispute," he added.
slk/ng (AP, AFP)