Cambodia, the closest ally of China in South-East Asia, on Saturday joined India to seek complete freedom of navigation in the seas and oceans in the region.
A meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart from Cambodia, Hun Sen, saw Phnom Penh joining New Delhi in seeking "pacific resolution of maritime issues based on international law, notably the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)."
Modi and Hun Sen witnessed exchange of four pacts after their meeting at the Hyderabad House on Saturday. The pacts included one for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. The two countries also inked a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation for Prevention of Human Trafficking.
Hun Sen, who has been holding the office of the Prime Minister since 1985, arrived in New Delhi last Wednesday. He participated in the ASEAN-India commemorative summit on Thursday. On Friday he joined the other leaders of the 10-nation bloc to witness the Republic Day parade by the armed forces on the Rajpath in New Delhi. He also met President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday.
Keen on ties
A joint statement issued after Modi's meeting with Hun Sen stated that both sides had expressed a keen interest in enhancing cooperation in maritime domain, including sustainable marine development and protection and preservation of marine and coastal environment, anti-piracy cooperation, security of sea lanes of communication to maintain peace and ensure safety and security of navigation in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Cambodia, a staunch ally of China, joining India to call for freedom of navigation and adherence to the UNCLOS for resolution of maritime disputes is significant.
China has been accused of undermining freedom of navigation in South-China Sea and the rules-based political and security architecture in Indo-Pacific.
Beijing had in July 2016 rejected the ruling of an international arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague in accordance with the provisions of the UNCLOS to settle China's maritime dispute with its neighbours like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Brunei over South China Sea. The tribunal based in The Hague had ruled that Beijing had no legal basis for its historic claims in the South China Sea.
A few weeks later, Cambodia blocked a consensus within the ASEAN to call upon China to adhere to the ruling by the tribunal. Hun Sen made other ASEAN leaders drop any reference to the ruling of the tribunal from the statement issued after a summit of the bloc at Vientiane in Lao PDR.
Hun Sen and Modi on Saturday also agreed to step up bilateral defence cooperation. Both leaders expressed satisfaction at the current state of bilateral defence ties, including ship visits and training programmes. They agreed to exchange senior level defence personnel and capacity building projects. Modi offered Hun Sen several lines of credit, which would be implemented "according to the requirements of the Cambodian government, especially in the areas of health, connectivity and digital connectivity".