Cambodia on November 16 hosted the 11th Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP11), where the Kingdom’s political leaders emphasised the need to strengthen multilateralism, as the region emerges as a site of intensifying Sino-US geopolitical competition, and grapples with the Covid-19 crisis.
The ASEP11 meeting is one of the side events that come with hosting the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13), which takes place on November 25-26. The theme of this year’s ASEP11 was “Strengthening Parliamentary Partnership for Peace and Sustainable Development in the Era of Covid-19 and Beyond”.
In his opening remarks, Senate president Say Chhum warned that confrontation and tension related to global trade competition, geopolitics and armed conflicts was only going to increase.
“I urge all parties to promote peaceful dialogue and support the rules-based international order while maintaining national sovereignty and independence through a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations by instead finding win-win solutions that build national and global unity,” he said.
Chhum urged all developed countries, the World Health Organisation, Covax Facility and all other stakeholders to invest more into financing Covid-19 vaccines equity and mobilisation to increase the level of support provided to poor countries that have so far been frozen out of the vaccines acquisition process and do so without any discrimination based on race, religion or political tendency.
“We have to reinforce the principles of globalisation, multilateralism, trade liberalisation and open investment, rather than withdrawing from these international mechanisms. We have to promote rules-based trade and re-establish an uninterrupted supply chain which must also be inclusive and sustainable given the context of the post-pandemic recovery,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also spoke at ASEP11, saying Covid-19 was a test of the capacity for cooperation between Asia and Europe and their levels of mutual trust. Although the Covid-19 crisis poses a threat to the political tendencies of global multilateralism, the joint commitment to these principles by the parliaments of both continents remains unwavering.
“As the host of ASEM13, Cambodia’s priority is to promote and strengthen multilateralism in order to achieve a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient post-pandemic socio-economic recovery,” he said.
Hun Sen said the fault lines of regional peace and stability are under pressure from geopolitical competition once again and this is forcing smaller states to choose between rival political agendas that do not reflect their will or national interests.
“In the context of such tense geopolitical rivalry, only trust-based partnerships allow us to preserve a multilateral system that guarantees the world’s peace, stability, growth and prosperity. In this spirit, we all need to continue upholding the value of peace as an end in itself and constantly explore for new means to achieve this necessary, noble and cherished goal,” he said.
The prime minister said Cambodia is committed to strictly adhering to the principles of mutual respect, mutual learning and mutual interests to build the necessary foundation for implementing the Kingdom’s multilateral foreign policy.
Hun Sen said that one positive benefit of the Covid-19 pandemic was that it created an opportunity for wide-ranging reforms – including economic reforms – and added space to pursue other priorities on developing the nation’s agendas.
He said the pandemic had altered global supply and production chains and provided an opportunity for fast-growing digital transformation and the growth of a green circular economy.
“In this regard, Cambodia’s economic recovery [from Covid-19] will include these trends on its reforms agenda and we are optimistic that these will become the common and shared identities of the world’s nations during the post-crisis recovery,” he said.
Heidi Hautala, vice-president of the EU, said at the opening ceremony that the parliaments assembled for ASEP11 must always serve the interests of their peoples and that parliamentary cooperation should go beyond areas such as environmental challenges and climate change, even though those subjects are both important to address.
She said ASEM cooperation should also tackle well-known security issues such as maritime claims in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, cyber-security, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, food security, the fight against religious extremism of all kinds and the active promotion of human rights.
“Indeed, we have many problems. However, as parliamentarians, we must have faith in the notion that all of these problems have solutions and the first step is always to get to know the other side of any dispute and to create a dialogue platform that is committed to mutual respect,” she said.