Cleaning Up the "Mess"

Cleaning Up the "Mess"
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A very un-ASEAN war of words has broken out over who is responsible for the regional organization's failure to agree on a joint communiqué at the most recent ministerial meeting. The Philippines claims that Cambodia did not work energetically to achieve consensus on South China Sea language that most members could support. For its part, Cambodia appears to believe the Philippines insisted on importing its recent spat with China into the text in a way that several other members couldn't abide. The Philippines is not directly accusing Cambodia of doing China's bidding, but other observers are less reticent: Fairly or not - during Cambodia's time in the Asean chair, it has faced accusations of doing Beijing's bidding rather than supporting its colleagues. Cambodia has tried - as far as possible - to keep the South China Sea issue off the agenda of Asean meetings.Its refusal to allow a reference to the Philippines' dispute with China stymied attempts to issue a closing statement following last week's meetings.It seemed to confirm the worst fears of diplomats about Asean's vulnerability to conflicts of interest caused by China's influence in the region. Indonesia's foreign minister is now engaged in an effort to repair the rift, and there are signs of progress. Via the Associated Press (and courtesy the indispensable Taylor Fravel): Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has taken on the role of mediator after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach a common position on the row at a gathering in Phnom Penh last week."Despite suggestions to the contrary, in actual fact ASEAN remains united," Natalegawa told reporters in the Cambodian capital, on the third leg of a regional peacemaking tour after visiting Hanoi and Manila on Wednesday.Natalegawa said he was working to identify "basic ASEAN positions on the South China Sea", which would dispel the perception that the 10-member group is divided."We are now on the cusp of formalising this consensus," Natalegawa said. Indonesia's foray is its second high-profile effort to mend intra-ASEAN fences in as many years. Jakarta also sought to resolve last year's Thailand-Cambodia border dispute, with mixed results.

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