Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 17 explained why the ASEAN-US summit initially scheduled for March 28-29 has been postponed, apparently in response to critics who speculated that Cambodia as ASEAN chair would not agree to meet with the US.
Speaking at the inauguration of the SOS Children’s Village in Prey Veng province, Hun Sen said some critics had incorrectly assumed that the postponement was due to the ASEAN chair not wanting to go ahead with the summit.
“But I want to advise them and give them more information to fill in the gaps in the knowledge of certain people who have doctorates and are professors,” he said without naming the critics.
He explained that in the ASEAN bloc in any given year, there is one country that plays the role of facilitator and schedules the dates of all meetings. This year, Cambodia is the chair of ASEAN and the facilitator is actually Indonesia, so they have the responsibility of arranging the dates for the ASEAN-US meeting.
According to Hun Sen, the meeting scheduled for March 28-29 was agreed to by the US, but in reality the facilitating country, Indonesia, had not yet received the agreement of all of the ASEAN member states.
Among the 10 ASEAN members, four countries said they could not attend the meeting while some other were requesting that the summit be held on March 26-27 – dates the US said it could not make.
“So, I want to tell the Cambodian people that Cambodia – as a member of ASEAN and even as the chair of ASEAN this year – does not set the dates for these meetings. The ASEAN chair only has the right to comment on the dates in order to build consensus among the 10 ASEAN members.
“Don’t be confused. Please – professors, doctorates and international affairs professors – learn more and become more knowledgeable about ASEAN in order to avoid being called ignorant,” he said.
He said a new date has already been proposed to all parties, though he could not reveal it before it becomes official.
“Please don’t say that the ASEAN chair did not agree to hold the ASEAN-US meeting. It’s Indonesia who is in charge of facilitation this year,” he said.
Hun Sen said he was ready and willing to attend the meeting and would even cancel other local events scheduled within Cambodia in order to attend the summit.
Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said Cambodia should move forward and ensure that the ASEAN-US special meeting takes place because it is good for Cambodia’s reputation as a whole and for the government in particular.
Should the meeting take place, Cambodia will be co-host with the US, and it will help raise Cambodia’s profile on the international stage.
“It would also be an opportunity for Cambodia to talk with the US about democracy, human rights, the Generalized System of Preferences [for trade] as well as US speculation on the alleged presence of China’s military at the Ream Naval Base. Thus, Cambodia should try to ensure that this meeting happens,” he told The Post on March 17.