Prime Minister Hun Sen has indicated that “peace for Ukraine” would be one subject matter for his talks with French President Emmanuel Macron at an international conference on “standing with the Ukrainian people”, to be held this week in Paris.

Hun Sen, in one of his final official duties as ASEAN chair, led a high-level delegation to Brussels, Belgium, on December 11 to co-chair the December 14 ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit to celebrate the 45th anniversary of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations along with European Council president Charles Michel, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The ministry said in a December 9 statement that ASEAN and EU leaders are expected to focus their discussion on how to promote economic and people-to-people exchanges, digital transformation and connectivity, transitioning to green energy, energy and food security and sustainable development.

“Leaders will also exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern and interest,” it said.

But before the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit, Hun Sen will pay a visit to France where he will be received by Macron at the Elysee Palace.

“Hun Sen will also participate in a conference on ‘solidarity with the Ukrainian people’, meet with the Movement of Entrepreneurship of France and meet with representatives from Vinci Airports,” the ministry said.

Vinci Airports is a global airport operator based in the French capital Paris that runs over 50 airports worldwide, including Cambodia’s three airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

According to Macron’s December agenda, the French president will attend the same Ukraine conference and an additional Franco-Ukrainian conference for resilience and reconstruction.

Media reports indicate that the “solidarity with the Ukrainian people” international conference was announced by Macron in November following his phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska is reported to be attending the conference.

The day before his departure, Hun Sen attended the 9th Sea Festival held in Preah Sihanouk province under the theme “Bay of Peace, Bay of Hope”, where he said he would meet Macron on December 13, during which discussions on how to bring peace to Ukraine would be a topic of conversation.

“I am not one to travel there from far away Asia and bring gasoline along to pour on the flames of war in Europe. War is happening in the European region where it used to be peaceful. But now, what is happening there is a main topic of discussion,” he said.

He stressed that he placed a high value on peace as the foundation of everything, including tourism. Cambodia currently has UN peacekeepers deployed to Lebanon, South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic (CAR).

“We see that in all of those countries, conditions are not favourable for tourism because no one wishes to try to visit a place with landmines, shelling, bombing and wars,” he said. “So, my trip to Europe this time, aside from attending the ASEAN-Europe meeting, I will have a discussion on the issue of Ukraine and peace with the French president and at the international conference.”

At the Sea Festival which coincidentally fell on the same date as International Human Rights Day on December 10, Hun Sen said that human rights can only be possible in a peaceful country.

“No peace means no development, no peace means no respect for human rights and democracy and no peace means no everything. Therefore, I appeal to all Cambodians to protect hard-earned peace from being destroyed by any country or any group. At all costs, we must protect peace to ensure sustainable development,” he said.

On December 10, Hun Sen also met with Michel Bujold, president of the World-Bays Club. During the meeting, Bujold said he was happy that Hun Sen would travel to Europe to share his experiences in seeking peace and to offer his input on the situation in Ukraine.

Thong Mengdavid, a researcher at the Asian Vision Institute’s Centre for Strategic Studies, said the meeting between Hun Sen and Macron showed that ASEAN is in a good position to strengthen ASEAN-EU relations and cooperation amid the food and energy crises that are the result of the war in Ukraine.

“Security is a common concern for the whole world. Cambodia and ASEAN have duties to protect and place a high value on peace, because as Hun Sen has said, the problem of war cannot be solved by another war. So, ASEAN must maintain a neutral position and seek all means with European countries to end the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that Cambodia has demostrated a strong and clear position that is firmly against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Cambodia supports peaceful solutions to the issue and decries the use of force by one country against another because Cambodia abides by the UN Charter,” he said.

Phea said relations between ASEAN and the EU are currently progressing positively and have been elevated from the level of dialogue partners to strategic ones, with the EU releasing an Indo-Pacific strategy that has ASEAN at the core of their planning.