26th July 2012
Battle has been joined by the government’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Koy Kuong, and the Phnom Penh Post over Roger Mitton’s latest Monday commentary, ASEAN Struggles for Unity, which Koy characterises as “full of wild and ill conjectures and deliberately insulting to Cambodia.”
Not only did the government spokesman find the contents of Mitton’s piece objectionable, he threatened the paper with a lawsuit for “for inciting insults against Cambodia” if they didn’t print his letter in full – which they duly did.
Amongst his multiple sins, Mitton had referred to Cambodia as a “junior” member of ASEAN, by which he no doubt meant relatively new to the organisation, but Koy took to mean lower in status – a serious loss of face for this prickly nation forever protective of its place in the world.
Mitton also failed to acknowledge that despite a failure to agree on a joint communiqué at the end of the recent ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh hosted by the government, Indonesian’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa had subsequently retrieved the situation by hammering out a belated six-point agreement on the South China Sea that all parties had signed on to. Koy insists this final statement conformed exactly to what Cambodia had been trying to sell the conference all along but this had been thwarted by “two ASEAN members having bilateral disputes in the South China Sea” with China – which the spokesman suggests was outside the scope of ASEAN.
Moreover, the disputants with China had, Koy insisted, “essentially hijacked the 45th AMM and make the joint communiqué a hostage of their unyielding demand”, contrary to the spirit of the organisation that has traditionally kicked issues where there was no unanimity down the road. It all suggested a conspiracy “to sabotage the 45th AMM”, according to Koy’s letter.
What really stuck in Koy’s craw was Mitton’s assertion that Cambodia had acted in any way other than an honest broker at the conference, especially that the government had been bought and sold to the benefit of their Chinese benefactors. That the Peace Palace was funded by China where the ASEAN ministerial meetings were held was also galling (especially when it was the monstrosity next door that the Chinese actually paid for). Or that they had showed the original draft communiqué to China before rejecting it – a breach of protocol – something this law-abiding government would never contemplate!
Game, set and match.
While the letter published in yesterday’s Post didn’t exactly follow with a retraction, it did conclude with the weasel words: Editor’s note: Roger Mitton is a regional columnist and his views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Phnom Penh Post.
It follows criticisms of Mitton by government supporters in Malaysia in early June, accusing him of being a cheer leader of the “Anwar Ibrahim Fan Club”. Given that Roger lives in Bangkok, we just hope there aren’t any lèse majesté claims on the horizon.
Meanwhile, a review of the documentation from the summit by Carlyle Thayer on the Asia Times online website would seem to contradict Koy’s take on the summit.