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US, China jockey for influence with Asean

Publication Date : 05-09-2012


As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her mission in Jakarta to enhance ties with the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and bolster the grouping's role in the South China Sea spat, China pledged to give Cambodia US$500 million in loans and grants as a token of gratitude for Phnom Penh's move in accommodating the Asian superpower's interests in the region.

Clinton concluded her state visit to Indonesia by making a courtesy call on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and paying a visit to Asean headquarters in South Jakarta.

In her meeting with Yudhoyono, Clinton discussed the South China Sea issue as well as Indonesia's key role in Asean toward producing a peaceful resolution with China regarding the conflicting territorial claims.

"On the latest developments in the South China Sea, Secretary of State Clinton expressed the US' appreciation for Indonesia's role, particularly having managed to retain Asean unity. Indonesia and the US have agreed to push for a code of conduct within the zone, particularly ahead of the Asean and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh in November," said Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who accompanied Yudhoyono at the meeting, told a press conference at the Presidential Office yesterday.

After her meeting with Yudhoyono, Clinton held a meeting with Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to indicate US support for the 10-nation association.

Pitsuwan said that during her visit, Clinton "extended moral support" to Asean for its efforts in dealing with the South China Sea issue.

Late on Monday, Aun Porn Moniroth, secretary of state for finance in Cambodia, which is Asean chair this year, announced that Prime Minister Hun Sen had signed four loan agreements for unspecified projects worth about $420 million when he visited China over the weekend, Reuters reported.

Three more loan agreements, worth more than $80 million, were expected to be signed later this year, Moniroth said, adding that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had also pledged a grant of 150 million yuan ($24 million) as "a gift" for Cambodia to use on any priority project.

"The Chinese government also expressed its appreciation for the part to be played by Cambodia as Asean chair in maintaining good cooperation between China and Asean," Moniroth said.

According to Xinhua news agency, Wen said that China "will coordinate with Cambodia and support the country in order to make the upcoming series of meetings among East Asian leaders a success".

Cambodia was deemed the state most responsible for the 2012 Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) fiasco. At the meeting, which was held in Phnom Penh, Asean members failed for the first time in the group's 45-year history to issue a joint communique, following fierce debates on the wording of a section on territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Officials from several Asean countries viewed Cambodia as stonewalling any efforts to change the position of China, one of its most powerful allies.

The latest developments from Phnom Penh could potentially undermine the shuttle diplomacy carried out by Natalegawa, on Yudhoyono's instructions, only days after the AMM ended, which Indonesia and the US see as vital to maintaining unity in Southeast Asia.

And today, Yudhoyono, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and a number of Cabinet members will leave for Ulan Bator, Mongolia to pay a diplomatic visit, and Vladivostok in Russia to attend the APEC summit.

The trip to Ulan Bator was in response to an invitation from Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, presidential foreign affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said in a statement.

"With the mineral-rich Mongolia, there is the potential to forge bilateral cooperation to support Indonesia's energy security," he continued.

During the APEC summit, Yudhoyono is expected to have bilateral meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Peruvian President Ollanta Moses Humala, and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Clinton, meanwhile, will join Yudhoyono in Vladivostok after touring several Asia-Pacific cities including Beijing, China; Dili, Timor Leste; and Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam.


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