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SEA countries feud over China sea claims

From left, ASEAN Secretariat Le Loung Minh, Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Myanmar Minister of State of Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin watch during the Welcome Dinner for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Manila, Philippines Thursday Aug. 4, 2017. The 10-member ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is expected to discuss with its dialogue partners the South China Sea issue, North Korea and extremism in Southeast Asia. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila-POOL)

Southeast Asian nations were battling yesterday to find a compromise on how to deal with Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, with Cambodia lobbying hard for Beijing, diplomats said.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations failed to release a joint statement as scheduled Saturday night, and tense follow-up negotiations the next morning could still not end the stand-off, two diplomats involved in the talks told AFP.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters approaching the coasts of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The tense talks came after Vietnam, which also claims parts of the strategically vital sea, insisted that tough language be inserted into the statement expressing concern over Chinese land reclamation in the contested waters.

Cambodia, one of China’s strongest allies within ASEAN, had firmly resisted, according to the diplomats involved in the talks in Manila, as well as an excerpt of proposed Cambodian resolution obtained by AFP Sunday.

‘‘Vietnam is adamant and China is effectively using Cambodia to champion its interests,’’ one of the diplomats said. ‘‘But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language.’’

China has, in recent years, expanded its presence in the sea by building artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.

Tensions over the sea have long vexed ASEAN, which operates on a consensus basis but has had to balance the interests of rival claimants and those more aligned to China. (AFP)