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News Reports

Drama at the Asean House – Finale

The story continues….

For the first time since the clan was formed 45 years ago, they didn’t hand out a farewell note – and the host of the  Asean Phnom Penh open house, Cambodia, is LIVID. He looks fit to explode, berating “some” family members for sabotaging the joint communique which would have listed what the elders had decided at the meeting. These people are only interested in getting their own way on the South China Sea, he complained. Holding the communique “hostage” to their bilateral interest, was how he put it.

Who do they think they are?  We’ve got like 100 over good things to say and they are unhappy over just one point and because of these jokers, we can’t issue the farewell note? Irresponsible! Disappointing! Anyway, that’s about the gist of his complaint. Imagine this said in long-winded Khmer, repeated ad nasuem…and badly translated into English.

He said this after every relative had left the house, which is now a thorough wreck. Minor and major relatives had been up all night and the morning, talking at breakfast, lunch, coffeebreak etc trying to get everyone to agree on the words of the joint communique. Alas, it was not to be.

The gloves came off. The Cambodian is pissed because people think it’s HIS fault. He’s chairing the meeting and he is clearly on China’s side, so of course, he wouldn’t want anything down on paper about the South China Sea that would make the Chinese look bad.

The Cambodian is practically yelling now: It’s not my fault! How can you say this? Don’t you remember it was me who started ball rolling 10 years with the Declaration on the Code of Conduct? That was a fine piece of work. It had everything, legal and political principles that say everybody must behave by international maritime law…Now these Filippinos! And these Vietnamese! They want to complicate everything…. Asean is not a tribunal you know. Anyway, its between China and the Vietnamese, and China and the Philippines.

Actually what the Filippinos and Vietnamese want is to have some “newish” words put in the communique: Scarborough Shoal (the P says it’s theirs), continental shelfs and exclusive ecomic zones (where all that oil is). The Cambodian doesn’t think they should be in….

The Philippines isn’t taking this lying down. Deplorable! And how can that Cambodian blame it on us? All we wanted is for some facts to be put in! We should be tackling the issue as a team! But the Cambodians are listening to the Chinese….What the…!

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So the Asean house is a total shambles, a failure? So much for Asean unity…

The Cambodian gets angry: Who says it’s a failure?  We agreed on everything else you know

The Asean guardian, the Secretary-General, is diplomatic: It’s a hiccup, he says. These things happen. Points of inflection. We need to do some soul-searching. We had a unique situation. (He’s a master of the art of words which can mean something or nothing)

The Singaporean was sharper: Failure? That’s your word, not mine.

But the Singaporean, who has kept out of the cross-fire, says the Asean image is taking a knock. Dented. Elders are going back to their own leaders with nothing to show after so many days spent together…That communique was to have covered so many things, connectivity, economic integration, cross-border partnerships etc. Then it gets passed to the Asean leaders and the secretariat for work to get done. The ministers, even if not the meeting, “failed”, he said.

The Asean sec-gen calls it a “void” between now and maybe September, when there is a chance for the elders to meet again at the sidelines of a UN conference in Geneva.

Seriously, why not have the communique without those three offending words South China Sea? There are after all, 100-over points to make – and to get down to work on to get the goal of an Asean Community by 2015. The Cambodian himself said he couldn’t understand why not. Seems perfectly reasonable to leave that bit out and settle it separately at a later date. But apparently, other relatives think that such a “censored” communique wouldn’t reflect accurately what went on during the meeting. So it’s all or nothing.

The Asean consensus: Okay, nothing then….

Some elders left last night. There were only five left when the Open House drew to a close today Friday 13. The Cambodians were happy to be rid of everyone, it seems. The gong bangers, always a hungry bunch, thought there would be lunch back at the workplace. But all the stuff had been cleared away….No communique. No lunch.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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