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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amidst Thai-Cambodia spat, Asem meets in China

By Bill Smith

NOTE: The Asia-Europe summit runs from Friday to Saturday

Beijing (dpa) - This week's largest ever gathering of Asian and European leaders was planned to focus on efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development, but those efforts now look likely to be overshadowed by the need to respond to the global financial turmoil.
The Thai and Cambodian prime ministers are expected to discuss their nations' recent border skirmish on the sidelines of the meeting.

Talks between the prime ministers of India and China, and between the leaders of South Korea and Japan, should be other highlights among the dozens of bilateral sessions expected.

But discussions on the financial crisis and economic recession are likely to dominate the two-day summit.

Talks on the financial crisis are expected to be "very intense" between leaders of the 27 European and 16 Asian nations at the seventh biannual Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Beijing, Serge Abou, the EU ambassador to China, told reporters.

"The main thing is to come out with strong and united messages conveying confidence," Herve Ladsous, the French ambassador to China, said of the talks on global finance.

"China has made it very clear that they will contribute towards a common effort," Ladsous said.

Separate "clusters" of discussions are planned on banking and financial systems, he said.

Expansion of cooperation between Asia and Europe in trade and service industries could play an important role in resolving the financial crisis, Yi Xiaozhun, China's vice-minister of commerce, said on Monday.

"In addition to stabilizing financial markets, open, stable and fair international trade relations are very important for restoring confidence and getting over the economic difficulty," state media quoted Yi as saying.

Asia and Europe "really need an agreement on free trade," Abou said.

"We sincerely hope that this year's conference will give a push to the trade talks," he said.

This year's Asem summit includes several new members, notably India and Pakistan, meaning the delegates represent a combined 50-60 per cent of the global population and economy.

France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, will present an Asem statement on climate change under the theme of "Vision and action: towards a win-win solution."

Host nation China has drafted another joint statement on the financial crisis, while the EU wants to mark the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration on human rights with a "summit commitment to implementing human rights," said EU officials in Brussels.

The officials said the EU would push for "the maximum commitment we can get" from Asia on signing up to a post-Kyoto deal on climate change at talks in Copenhagen in December 2009.

But China and other Asian nations appear unlikely to shift from their insistence that European and other developed countries must take the lead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"China is a big energy consuming power in the world, so we face lots of pressure," Zhang Haibing, an economist at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The ruling Communist Party's promotion of leader Hu Jintao's "scientific outlook on development" reflects the importance that China attaches show to environmental issues, Zhang said.

China also wants to make more use of advanced environmental technology from EU nations, she said.

"The main difference between China and the EU is the idea of 'common but differentiated responsibilities'," she said, referring to China's support for the UN principle of different goals for developing and developed nations.

Despite the anticipation of several joint statements, Zhang said the Asem meeting was "not likely to reach any substantial achievement."

But she denied that bilateral meetings between the leaders would be more important than the main forum, except perhaps for "certain countries or under certain circumstances."

The Asian nations attending the summit are the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China, Japan, South Korea and new members India, Pakistan and Mongolia.

"The recent turbulence in the international financial market has dealt a blow to the world economy and aroused the concern of the entire international community," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a speech to an Asem forum last week.

"No country in the world can expect to stay away from such issues as global warming, environmental degradation, resource shortage and the increasingly grave international economic and financial situation or address them on one's own," Yang said.

"In this connection, strengthened cooperation between Asia and Europe not only serves the immediate need but also has a long-term strategic significance," he said.

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Thai-Cambodian border committee set to meet

( - Thai army and government officials will attend Thai-Cambodian Regional Border Committee (RBC) meeting, aimed at seeking peaceful solutions to the ongoing border row between both countries.

The RBC meeting is scheduled to be held on Thursday and Friday in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The previous meeting was held between Thailand’s Second Army commander, Lt-Gen Wiboonsak Neeparn, and Cambodia’s Fourth Army commander, Gen Chea Mon, following the armed clash between both sides near Preah Vihear temple on October 16.

Meanwhile, the Second Army deputy commander, Maj-Gen Veevalit Jornsamrit, said the Thai troops have beefed up security along the Thai-Cambodian border area to prevent armed confrontations with Cambodian soldiers from happening again.

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Cambodians Favor Diplomatic Solution to Temple Standoff With Thailand

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh

Nationalist fervor has been rising in Cambodia as anger mounts over what Cambodians consider to be an illegal occupation of their land around the Preah Vihear temple by Thai troops. However, with bitter memories of three decades of war still fresh in many people's minds, political analysts say the Cambodian government will continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Rory Byrne has this report from Phnom Penh.

Buddhist services were held across Cambodia for the three soldiers killed in fighting with Thai troops around Preah Vihear temple on October 16.

Nationalist anger has risen in Cambodia since last week when Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged gunfire around the temple. Cambodians consider the dispute over land just the latest in a long series of arguments over land with their more powerful neighbor.

In 1962, The International Court of Justice ruled the 900-year-old temple lies in Cambodia, but a main access route to it is in Thailand. The dispute over the land was dormant for decades, however, until a few months ago, when Thai nationalists objected to Cambodia's petition to have the complex declared a United Nations World Heritage site.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently threatened to turn the area around the temple into a "life and death battlefield" if Thailand refused to withdraw its soldiers from what he says is Cambodian territory. The Thais deny crossing into Cambodia.

Chea Vannath is an independent political analyst in Phnom Penh. She says that in light of Mr. Hun Sen's victory in recent elections, he is anxious to prove his strongman credentials to the domestic audience.

"He [has] achieved a lot of things already in his political life and it's time for him to prove that he's really serious about protecting the integrity and sovereignty of Cambodia," Chea said. "It's just the right time, because he won 90 seats - a landslide victory, he got everything, so this one is the next stage."

However, some political analysts in Cambodia say the last thing the country really wants is a war with Thailand. Cambodia's economy is growing but the country remains poor and is still recovering from three decades of conflict.

Plus, the army is small and ill-equipped compared with Thai forces.

But, say some Cambodians, many of its troops are hardened fighters experienced in guerrilla warfare. Even Mr. Hun Sen noted that strength, saying "Ants can hurt elephants."

Chea Vannath says despite rhetoric, the government will search for a diplomatic solution.

"We have plenty of peaceful negotiation institutions such as [the] U.N. or ASEAN or the Paris Peace Agreement or the International Court," Chea said. "So we have plenty of mechanisms rather than focusing on force because when it gets to war both countries stand to lose."

Mr. Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat are expected to discuss the dispute on Friday or Saturday while they attend a summit with European leaders in Beijing.

So far, peace talks have made little progress and Cambodian and Thai troops reportedly are digging in deeper around Preah Vihear, preparing for a long standoff.
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