It's official-Cambodia will be joining the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
Dr Lao Mong hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, and Kao
Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace
share their thoughts with Hurley Scroggins on what Asean membership will really
Kao Kim Hourn: Asean is a regional organization with a successful record,
becoming what we
call a diplomatic club with a very successful economic record behind it. It is a
fast-growing dynamic region that continues to attract considerable foreign investment.
Now [it is] increasingly playing a very important role. Not only managing its own
affairs, but in projecting its positive self image in the international political
Cambodia will probably become a member in late July, we have lost more than two
decades of what we call our regional role. Now we are re-entering Southeast Asia
in the framework in a different time and I think that we have different reasons now
I think this is very important, because Cambodia has only two choices: continued
isolation or integration. And I think that integration is not only a choice, but
Lao Mong Hay: It seems the admission of Cambodia into Asean was just a matter
of course. It seems the Asean six itself wanted Cambodia, Laos and Burma to join.
External powers like Japan and America seem to encourage the expansion of Asean,
perhaps something to do with geo-strategic interests in the sense of having a bloc
at the southern flank of China. Because Southeast Asean countries, especially the
original Asean six, have had good relations with Japan and with the west and their
properties have depended on the two areas.
Since around 1990 some portion of Asian scholars advocated that Asean should prepare
itself as a welcoming place for Japan. And Japan itself has an interest in maintaining
good interests and relationships with Asean, its sea-links and air, because its economy
depends very much on overseas links. And of course the West, especially America,
wants to maintain its presence in the Western Pacific.
Will Asean Affect internal Cambodian politics?
Kao Kim Hourn: The question whether Asean will have any impact, whether
positive or negative is something we have to see in the future. But I don't think
Asean will dictate the political process in our country. Neither do I think that
Asean will try to intervene in our own political affairs. That would be a contradiction
to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asea, which clearly spells out
the policy of non-interference of member states in Asean.
Asean is a Cambodian agenda. It is not to benefit one party and cost another party.
Surely if Funcinpec see this as helping one political party, I don't think that they
would do it and vice versa. Rather, has a consensus on. They see that this will benefit
Cambodia as a nation.
And I don't think Asean would do the same, to try to give more benefit to one
party over another. I think that would be suicide for Asean. Rather, this is the
only thing at least that Cambodia, the coalition government, has a consensus on.
They see that this will benefit Cambodia as a nation. And I don't think Asean would
do the same, to try to give more benefit to one party over another. I think that
would be suicide for Asean. Rather they have to work with Cambodia as one nation,
as one government. I think sometimes it is very difficult for them, but they have
to. I don't think that one party will gain over the other. Supposedly Asean is for
the benefit for all.
I don't think membership will affect pluralism. Because this is a Cambodian internal
political process and there's no way Asean can dictate how our political process
Lao Mong Hay: Here I can predict that whatever happens to Cambodian people,
I doubt very much that Asean governments would care. So far they have shown that
they care, but the aim of their care is global stability so as to guarantee assurances
of their business interests in Cambodia.
Look at the former Thai PM who came to Cambodia, the foreign minister of Malaysia
came to Cambodia, they conveyed messages to our leaders to work together so as to
ensure stability. Some even mentioned their own business interests, investment. I
cannot remember that they mentioned the well being of the Cambodian people or a reference
to the Paris Peace Agreements. They are hiding behind the sacrosanct principle of
non-interference into internal affairs.
Asean would not react if there were a repeat of Pol Pot. They would adhere to
the principle of non-interference. They have accepted SLORC. If their contracts are
OK then everything is OK.
Is Cambodia selling out its sovereignty?
Lao Mong Hay: Asean has not adhered to protocols. There was no approval
from the National Assembly. They don't care. It is a step down a slippery slop. We
have let our neutrality be violated in the past and we have paid for that.
Are we foolish enough to crush all who are demanding concessions from Asean? We need
to be clever, to use public opinion pressure to negotiate the postponement as long
as possible the implementation of AFTA [Asean Free Trade Area] rules and regulations.
We are losing out to Asean. We need to negotiate as well from now on, even before
the implementation of AFTA. The way you exploit our natural resources causes resentment
and in a democracy if you have resentment it is not good for the government or the
ruling parties. They could be booted out of office. Use these democratic processes
to win concessions. Talk abut it in and out of Parliament.
Kao Kim Hourn: I don't think that [protocol] has been violated. Cambodia
is not yet a member of Asean -as a full member. The decision was only that they are
going to admit us in July. So it will take some time really.
Of course Asean would like for Cambodia to ratify, or endorse, all of the 19 agreements,
but they will ask us to do it. What is important is that Cambodia has a commitment
and I think that Asean realize that.
Asean has a lot of interests in Cambodia, vested interests. They have a lot of investments
here- investment interests They want to see Cambodia doing well. I don't think that
they are more pro-Cambodia than the Cambodians themselves. You cannot say that they
are, but of course they would like to see peace and stability in this country like
the Cambodians themselves.
In my view, I don't think that we are selling Cambodia to Asean. We joined Asean
for different purposes. We want to get something from it. Asean is not the only institution
that we are a member of. We have to keep that in perspective.
Does joining violate neutrality?
Lao Mong Hay: The issues that need to be addressed first are the permanent
neutrality of Cambodia. It needs to be very careful. There has been a euphoria to
join Asean.. Well and good but how about Cambodia's status as a permanently neutral
state. For instance, I asked questions to Asean scholars and strategists over the
dispute between China and Paracel Islands.
Should Cambodia's ambassador attend a meeting [on the disputed islands] along side
Asean ambassadors or not? To me it is a very sensitive issue because first we have
a status as a permanently neutral state, which means no operations of military bases
inside Cambodian territory. And no military alliances with any other nations.
But then how can we define [Asean] when there's more and more talk abut security,
regional security, regional re-armament.
To my knowledge it has become more and more a de facto security arrangement of some
sort. You cannot say that it is military alliance, but there is more talk about security
issues. Against whom? Against China?
I think that the Asean Regional Forum includes army officers, military elements.
So how about Cambodia? There have been talks about joint military exercises and all
that. What attitude does Cambodia need to take? And how about the reaction of China?
China is a signatory to the Paris Peace Agreements, which spell out the permanent
neutrality of Cambodia. So international obligations - and furthermore strategically
speaking-we need to maintain good relations with China. Historically, we haven't
had any trouble with China and China has been helping us.
Kao Kim Hourn: The Asean Regional Forum is not NATO. It does not have armed
forces. It is not an institutionalized mechanism as such. Therefore, I am not so
sure that it is a de facto security arrangement. ARF is a forum for discussion, for
meeting, for exchanging views, ideas, information-and in the process build confidence.
I don't think that [the Spratly /Paracels issue] will come to a vote, whether Asean
should address the South China Sea . It would never want to take a confrontational
stance to wards China. I think Asean will continue to engage China in various ways.
But I don't think Asean would ever confront China on such a thing. It's not in
Asean's interests -for the Asean way of doing things. So it really comes back to
the fact that Asean is not a de facto security arrangement as such.
Permanent neutrality is very important factor, but what do we mean by such a concept?
What does it mean to Cambodia in the post Cold War period? I don't think that when
we join Asean that we will compromise our neutrality. That's why I say that Asean
is a regional organization composed of sovereign nation states. Cambodia as a nation
state is not going to put our sovereignty under Asean. Neither are the other members.
The concept of neutrality today is different from the one Cold War period. We
are not joining the US, joining the Soviet Bloc-ther are no more blocs. The concept
to me is not relevant as such.
Will Asean make a lasting difference politically?
Kao Kim Hourn: It may affect the patronage system, because Cambodia as
a nation state will have to build up a strong bureaucracy. We have to build up a
state apparatus. Today we don't have a strong state, we don't have a strong society.
One of the thing that I mean is that we don't have a strong government.
We don't strong government because we don't have a united government. At the same
time we don't have a strong bureaucracy. We need some time to really do that. Once
if the process is taking place and you have a strong bureaucracy then Cambodia will
not be ruled so much by patronage, but you will have a strong bureaucracy, institution
and standard-operating procedures in place and so forth.
That's the way I think things will be, but it is going to take some time to do that.
That's the reason why there are a number of reforms now in the process: public administration
judicial, military and police reform among other things.
Lao Mong Hay: In Asean itself how many countries are liberal democracies?
Our next-door neghbor is a communist country. How about the impact, the effect, of
a successful liberal democracy in Cambodia? It will be contagious. The Cambodian
tail could wag Asean's dog with regard to democracy and human rights.
We have to make our leaders accountable. Are they accountable? For instance, the
killing of journalists, the killing of demonstrators...They were elected to rule.
They now forget all what they pledged to do. The Constitution says that all conflicts
have to be solved through peaceful means.
Asean both a threat and opportunity. It depends on the skills of the officials attending
the Asean meetings. Are we clever enough or not? We are poor. We cannot afford to
send many people. We need to make arrangements to send only one, but one sure and
very knowledgeable person who can tackle issues with the rest of asean.
Not many people sent now are up to the standard. Here they are used to the communist
system. Some of them are of the feudalist or royalist system. Now way they can represent
our case well at the international conferences. No way. I can assure you.