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Thayer Cambodia-Philippines Diplomatic Tiff: Ambassador Recalled

Thayer Cambodia-Philippines Diplomatic Tiff: Ambassador Recalled

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An assessment of the failure of the Cambodian Ambassador to the Philippines to answer a summons by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
An assessment of the failure of the Cambodian Ambassador to the Philippines to answer a summons by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Aug 03, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Background Brief:Cambodia-Philippines DiplomaticTiff ContinuesCarlyle A. ThayerAugust 3 and 7, 2012
[client name deleted]Q1. I was hoping I could get your thoughts on the Cambodian ambassador'snonappearance at the Philippines DFA. They summoned him on Monday to explainthe public comments he made regarding the failures of the Asean communique(blamed the Philippines and Vietnam). He hasn't yet appeared, with the embassyclaiming he's feeling sick. The DFA won't speculate on what would happen if theambassador continued to be "sick", but I was hoping you might. How big a deal is itfor the ambassador to put off the host country like this?ANSWER: When a Foreign Ministry summons an ambassador it is a serious matter. Itindicates that other less formal avenues for communication are either not workingor have broken down. At the moment, the Cambodian ambassador must be giventhe benefit of the doubt over his excuse that he was unwell reportedly with the flu. If the excuse of illness was a ruse it will only make the current contretemps morecomplicated. The Philippines can continue to summon the Ambassador in order toobtain an explanation for his published remarks. If the Philippines finally concludesthat the Ambassador is showing disrespect by his actions they could declare himpersona non grata and expel him. The level of mutual trust is so low that it isincumbent on Cambodia to demonstrate good faith. They could release a medicalreport and when the Ambassador has recovered he could front up to theDepartment of Foreign Affairs.Q2. What does this mean for bilateral relations? For Asean? Is this a major misstepon Cambodia's part?ANSWER: At this juncture it would be unwise to jump to conclusions. But beyond theissue of the Ambassador's "diplomatic illness", Cambodia has certainly inflamed thesituation by its combative diplomatic behaviour. First, when Foreign Minister HorNamhong announced ASEAN's Six Principles on the South China Sea brokered byIndonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalagewa, he couldn't resist raking the coals of the dispute over the joint communique by accusing the Philippines and Vietnam of attempting to hijack the ministerial meeting. Then Cambodia launched a full courtpress with a press conference criticizing the Philippines and by having ambassadorswrite letters to the editors denouncing news reports unfavourable to Cambodia. TheCambodian Ambassador used particularly incendiary language accusing thePhilippines of playing
dirty politics.
This is more than a misstep on Cambodia's
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
part, it is a major miscalculation. It brings ASEAN into disrepute and it furtherinflames bilateral relations. Cambodia has undermined its role as ASEAN Chair overthe next five months when it relinquishes the chair. Cambodia's actions if uncheckedwill have a poisonous impact on intra-ASEAN cohesion as it attempts to negotiate aCode of Conduct with China. This all plays into China's hands because it has noincentive to resolve the COC issue quickly.Q3. (August 7, 2012) It was rumoured yesterday that Cambodia
s ambassador to thePhilippines is being replaced. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) says it willhave to wait for the new ambassador before they can deliver the note verbale. Onthe one hand, this might be a valid excuse as the ambassador's term started almostexactly two years ago (July 27, 2010) - which reportedly is a standard term. On theother hand, this is all rather convenient. Why didn
t Cambodia bring up theAmbassador
s replacement a week ago? Apparently the DFA had no idea thatCambodia was replacing its current ambassador.ANSWER:
Either the Ambassador was sick (with the flu) or he wasn’t. If the
Ambassador has recovered he should then make himself available to attend the DFAsummons and receive the note verbale.In the ordinary course of events there should be no mystery about the departure of 
an Ambassador at the end of his/her term and the Ambassador’s repla
cement.Diplomatic practice requires the Ambassador to give notice of his departure at theend of his term (he is usually fare welled by the diplomatic corps). At the same timeCambodia would need to approach the Philippines for its prior approval for theappointment (agrément in diplomacy) of a new Ambassador. The new Ambassadorwould be able to discharge his/her diplomatic functions only after he/she hadpresented his/her credentials to the Philippines.The interval between the departure of the present ambassador and his replacementcould be (a) to provide a convenient time to let tempers cool or (b) for Cambodia toobfuscate matters by delaying having to respond to the DFA summons and answerthe note verbale.Suggested citation: Car
lyle A. Thayer, “
Cambodia-Philippines Diplomatic Tiff Continues
Thayer Consultancy Background Brief 
, August 3 and 7, 2012.Thayer Consultancy Background Briefs are archived and may be accessed at:http://www.scribd.com/carlthayer. 

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Carlyle Alan Thayer added this note
Revised to include news report that Cambodia is recalling its Ambassador to the Philippines a year early.
Carlyle Alan Thayer added this note
The Brief updated August 7 with reports that Cambodia is replacing its ambassador to the Philippines.
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