Manila: President Benigno Aquino was defended as not un-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) after he publicly rebuked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, when the latter said the block’s 10-member countries have reached a consensus on discussing the South China Sea within an “Asean-China framework”.

“The chair, Prime Minister Hun Sen was about to finish his concluding remarks when President Aquino raised his hand and he made a significant intervention,” presidential communications operations office secretary Herminio Coloma said in a statement published by the Inquirer.

Coloma quoted Aquino as telling Hun Sen, “There were several views expressed yesterday on Asean unity [and] we did not realize [it should] be translated [as] an Asean consensus.”

“For the record this was not our understanding. The Asean route is not the only route for us. As a sovereign state, it is our right to defend our national interest,” President Aquino also told Hun Sen, Coloma’s notes revealed.

In response, Hun Sen “duly acknowledged the intervention [of Aquino], and said this will be reflected in the record of the meeting,” Coloma said.

“President Aquino’s statement speaks for itself. It points out that the statement of the chairman is not consistent with his own recollection or with his own understanding of the context of what has been discussed so far and he stated it plainly and simply,” said Coloma in defence of Aquino.

Aquino also interpreted Hun Sen’s statement that Asean has precluded the importance of the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, as a basis of the claimants of Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines on parts of the Spratly Archipelago, said Coloma.

Hun Sen said that ASEAN member countries have agreed not to internationalize the issue, and for claimants to handle their problems on a bilateral level with China. The incident occurred at the end of the Asean-Japan summit.

Aquino also failed to join the annual pictorial of Asean leaders after the meeting because he was suffering from flu, a TV report said.

Earlier, before the meet, Aquino said his mission was to make Asean speak with one voice with regards the problem experienced by claimants in the South China Sea.

Sources also that said Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam led a heated disagreement with other Asean countries that called on Sunday to ask China the immediate start of formal talks so that Asean members and China finalize a binding code of conduct of claimants in the South China Sea.

Observers said that Asean has remained deeply divided on the South China Sea issue.

Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam faield to get Asean’s consensus to take a stand on the problems that Vietnam and the Philippines have encountered with China’s flexing of naval might in the contested sea lane.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and US President Barack Obama have joined Asean’s annual meeting.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea based on their respective historical rights on the sea lane. Brunei, Malaysia, and Philippines claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago based on the provision of UNCLOS which grants 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone to countries starting from their shores.