Japan Lays Out Position on Sea Disputes Ahead of Summits

Japan’s deputy chief Cabinet minister met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong yesterday to discuss territorial disputes in the South and East China seas ahead of a pair of major regional summits in Phnom Penh next month.

Tsuyoshi Saito was on a three-day visit intended to help ensure the summits’ “success” and to clarify Japan’s “issues with surrounding countries” including South Korea and China, said Tatsuya Machida, spokesman for the Japanese Embassy. Japan’s long-running territorial sea disputes with both neighbors have flared up in recent months.

“The minister explained about the Japanese position…and Cambodia said they understood Japan’s position clearer,” Mr. Machida said.

Phnom Penh is set to host the Asean Summit and East Asia Summit in late November, drawing in heads of state from across the region and farther afield, including from Russia and the U.S.

Last month, Japan offered rare criticism of Cambodia over its Asean chairmanship, complaining that it had failed to note Japan’s ongoing dispute with North Korea over abductees at a summit in Phnom Penh in July.

Mr. Machida declined to say whether the North Korea issue was broached yesterday.

After his morning meeting with Mr. Namhong, Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong told reporters that the Japanese minister discussed disputes both in the East China Sea and the South China Sea—where Japan has no direct interests—but did not elaborate.

For his part, Mr. Kuong said, Mr. Namhong said that Cambodia was not taking sides in any of the disputes.

“As the Asean chair, Cambodia has already appealed to all parties involved in the East China Sea and South China Sea to solve their disputes peacefully,” Mr. Kuong said.

Cambodia has repeatedly come under criticism as Asean chair for appearing to take China’s side on the South China Sea—where Beijing has territorial disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—criticism Cambodia has vehemently rejected.

Mr. Saito also visited the facilities of a Japanese firm, Minebea, making small motors for export in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone. Japan is one of Cambodia’s most generous aid donors and is making efforts to increase foreign direct investment.

Mr. Machida said the minister is scheduled to leave Cambodia today.

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