PHNOM PENH — Cambodia's foreign minister says a special meeting between ASEAN ministers and China is "crucial," following meetings with his Chinese counterpart this week.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met Thursday with Wang Yi, who was on a two-day visit for bilateral talks on security, economics and trade. Wang told reporters China is interested in protecting Cambodia from "outside" interests.
Hor Namhong says ASEAN ministers should consider a closer relationship with China as they head into talks aimed at easing tensions over the South China Sea next week in Beijing.
"The special meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers with China is crucial to consolidate friendship and strategic cooperation between ASEAN and China," he said.
The meeting in Beijing follows a recent ASEAN foreign affairs ministers meeting during which they said they would speak with "one voice" with China. The Cambodian foreign minister did not attend that meeting.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea, which has led to maritime tensions, including standoffs between vessels.
Cambodia's close relationship with China came under scrutiny last year, during a major ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia appeared to be working in China's interests over the South China Sea issue, where several ASEAN nations have disputed claims with their larger neighbor.
At the end of that meeting, ASEAN ministers were, for the first time in history, unable to agree on the language of a joint declaration, a signal of ongoing controversy among ministers.
The sea is a major international thoroughfare with oil and gas riches and has become a serious stumbling block for ASEAN affairs and Asian security.