This year is set to be another critical period for Cambodia with more than 50 international leaders set to convene in the capital on November 16 and 17 for the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).
The Post’s May Kunmakara spoke with Asian Vision Institute president Chheang Vannarith to discuss the agenda ahead of the Summit.
What will the summit mean for the Kingdom?
The 13th Asem summit will be held under the theme of Strengthening Multilateralism for Shared Growth.
In regards to multilateralism, the delegation will focus on relationships with the UN and the World Trade Organisation – both of which have an important role in making the Kingdom more open and efficient.
Since we are a small country with a corresponding economy, we need multiple partners to help protect our interests and avoid any negative impact.
We must also find ways to ensure shared growth by strengthening the global and regional economy to bridge the development gap. Meanwhile, we are pushing for a Rule-Based International Order – meaning that any conflict has to be resolved under international law.
How will the strained relationship with Europe impact the Asem?
Although we are trying to resolve some issues with the EU, I do not see this impacting the upcoming summit. Cambodia’s relationship with the EU is a bilateral one, while Asem focuses on multilateralism in the best interest of all.
At the same time, it would be inappropriate to bring up our concerns with the EU during the Summit since we are to host it.
Cambodia does not plan to hijack the Summit to take on the EU. Many other Asean members have also had issues with the EU. But despite this, the Asem will proceed as planned. We are more concerned with complex and controversial issues such as North Korea, China-US relations and Russia-US relations.
What will Cambodia’s role be during the Summit in terms of addressing critical issues?
Well, all countries must come together to better understand our common concerns. This requires leaders to come together and exchange ideas to forge closer ties. Cambodia has planned for bilateral meetings with participants to iron out those issues.
Will the US-China trade dispute and economic protectionism be on the agenda?
The trade war is a common concern for Asia and Europe. We have already discussed the issue because it threatens global economic growth.
The rise of protectionist policies will impact multilateral relationships as we rely on each other for economic growth. We have raised and debated these two concerns at almost every international meeting.
The EU and Vietnam have signed off on a Free Trade Agreement. Vietnam is a communist country while Cambodia is facing the threat of potential withdrawal from the ‘Everything but Arms’ (EBA) trade scheme – what is your take on this?
The EU practices double standards because it values Vietnam higher than Cambodia due to its economic and geopolitical interests there. The Cambodian economy is smaller, while relationships with the EU and US are not as significant, which leaves us vulnerable.
The EU’s hypocritical attitude goes against its core values. The EU claims to practice “normative power”, yet it accuses us of human rights violations while simultaneously elevating Vietnam to becoming a valuable trading partner because of economic interests.