The 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings, which concluded in Phnom Penh on November 13, had received close attention from the leaders of many countries around the world.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, for one, thanked Cambodia on November 12 for its efforts as ASEAN chair in the face of global divisions and sharp global geopolitical challenges, especially as China emerges as a superpower rival to the US.

“I would like to thank Cambodia as the ASEAN chair for its significant efforts in the face of serious global challenges, including deepening divisions that threaten world peace and security. Dangerous rhetoric is increasing nuclear tensions,” he said.

He stressed that current geopolitical divisions are causing global insecurity, leading to new conflicts, which in turn make it difficult to end existing crises. He said the world economy is being divided into two spheres, one led by the Chinese superpower and the other by the US.

In this regard, Guterres wants ASEAN members to be prepared to act as a bridge in the face of global divisions at a time when the world is in crisis. Many countries in Southeast Asia, he cited as an example, are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis that is plaguing food security. Energy and financial problems are also being exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he noted.

He commended ASEAN for its strong commitment to multilateralism and regional cooperation, emphasising that the bloc plays an important role in developing a strong global economy for the world.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, believes that Guterres’ remarks are a measure of the influence of the world’s two superpowers. The US, an established superpower, and a rising China are threatening global security in the face of geopolitical competition, he said in reference to Guterres’ comments.

He said ASEAN has now become a key player in contributing to keeping world order, as the bloc was organised as a platform for peaceful settlement based on UN principles and international laws.

“ASEAN’s centrality makes it an increasingly important key player in the debate on global and regional issues. This is why the Kingdom invited the major superpowers and relevant ASEAN dialogue partners to attend the summit and relevant meetings, including the US, Russia, China, Japan, India, among others,” he added.

Peou believed that ASEAN should strengthen unity among its member states because in the past, this regional intergovernmental organisation had been accused of being a stepping stone or political tool of the superpowers.

Rim Sokvy, co-founder of The Thinker Cambodia – a forum for commentary and analysis on foreign affairs – believes that the UN chief’s remarks were due to the tense political landscape over the years from the US and China. ASEAN is an important forum for superpowers to sit down and negotiate as it is a separate organisation not linked to either superpower, he noted.

“ASEAN is a regional organisation. As it is not in thrall to any superpower, it can play a role in solving global challenges,” he said.

The analyst believes that ASEAN is powerful because of its centrality, which in turn makes it an ideal platform for the superpowers to come together to find a solutions to global crises.