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Cambodia prepares for G20

If it were a Group of 180 nations meeting, Cambodia would be invited.

But the Kingdom’s chances of attending the so-called G20 summit, which brings together the world’s largest economies, are unlikely, says Mey Kalyan, a government adviser who last week became the first Cambodian to sit in, and speak at, a preparatory meeting for the yearly event.

At the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, next month, Prime Minister Hun Sen will be the first Cambodian head of state to pose for photographs with the likes of Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama under one roof – at a time when the country is looking to secure a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

“In the end, I don’t know what it will lead to,” Mey Kalyan, a senior adviser on the Supreme National Economic Council, said yesterday of the Kingdom’s attendance.

“These things are incremental. We are improving our access to the world, linking Cambodia to the map. This is image-building.”

But Cambodia’s presence was far from ceremonial.

The Kingdom, along with West African state Benin, will represent many of the developing world’s low-income countries before a host of economic powerhouses.

The ASEAN chairmanship, held by Cambodia this year, has been routinely invited to attend.

Mey Kalyan, who said he “spoke a lot” during the three days in Mexico, delivered a pointed message to the meeting that focused primarily on infrastructure, food security and a combination of sustainable and inclusive growth.

The developed powers of the world were devising a new lexicon of terminology for such things, but these phrases were far less important on the ground in countries such as Cambodia, he said.

“Development doesn’t happen in an air-conditioned room. The international community makes a lot of new terms. As a poor country, we’re constrained by these terms. They confuse us. I told them, ‘Stick to a few concepts. Grab the bull by the horns.’ ”

Mey Kalyan said the concept of “inclusive green growth” was important and pertinent, but the phrases, which were becoming increasingly convoluted, meant little for countries in the throes of basic development.

Cambodia and Benin’s presence brought some practicality to the discussion, he said.

It was also an opportunity for Cambodia to give back to the countries that had given billions of dollars in development aid, Mey Kalyan added.

The country could share its development experience from a failed state to a growing destination for foreign direct investment, he said.

Hun Sen would likely point to ways G20 countries could include emerging and frontier markets in global growth, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace executive director Chheang Vannarith said.

“I think the message the Prime Minister may bring is how to reduce the development gap between rich and poor countries,” he said.

Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest economy and a permanent G20 member, would also be in Mexico next month, and could deliver a similar message, Chheang Vannarith said.

But Cambodia would have the opportunity to demonstrate that poor nations can have their say on the issue, he said.

“It shows that small and big countries are coming together here to shape the world’s economy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at don.weinland@phnompenhpost.com

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