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Hun Sen asks for ASEAN-US meet to be pushed back amid date debate

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (top right) during the virtual ASEAN-US Summit via video conference in October last year. SPM

Hun Sen asks for ASEAN-US meet to be pushed back amid date debate

Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that the ASEAN-US summit be postponed from the date announced by the US as it has not been fully agreed upon between ASEAN member states.

According to the premier, the US had announced that the summit was scheduled for March 28-29 but Indonesia, who was acting as mediator, had not coordinated the scheduling with the other ASEAN members yet.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Cambodia-China Friendship Hospital in Tbong Khmum province on March 7, Hun Sen noted that some ASEAN leaders wanted the summit to be held on March 26-27, but the US said it would not work for them while the leaders of at least three ASEAN countries also said they could not attend the meeting if it was held on that date.

“I would like to ask for a postponement if there is no agreement on the summit schedule. The ASEAN-US summit should be delayed,” he said without proposing any new date.

Hun Sen hoped ASEAN and the US would find a suitable date to meet, saying that as the chair of ASEAN, he would be available for the summit on any date in March – though the US-proposed dates of March 26-27 are the last weekend of the month.

Hun Sen also said that because the leaders of four ASEAN nations are visiting the Middle East, the ASEAN-China summit may possibly need to be postponed as well.

He said that, additionally, from mid-May to mid-June he could not leave Cambodia because the commune elections would be taking place on June 5 and the Kingdom would be busy with the preparations for it.

“If the ASEAN chair cannot leave the country [to attend], then that means the summit will not take place [on those dates],” Hun Sen said.

Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said Cambodia, as the ASEAN chair, strongly desires that the summit take place as soon as possible given the precarious geopolitical developments happening in ASEAN and across the world – such as the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea and other issues across the Mekong region, and most recently the Russia-Ukraine conflict – which will likely require the assistance of the US to help resolve.

“ASEAN is a group of countries that love peace and respects the principles of international law. ASEAN needs the US to provide political, economic and technical support to strengthen regional cooperation and promote our post-Covid-19 economic recovery,” he told The Post on March 7.

Mengdavid said ASEAN could also be a key player in influencing Russia to stop its “military action” in Ukraine and to return to negotiations to prevent the spread of war and the refugee crisis, which will cause misery and instability in Europe and across the whole world.

“Cambodia could also chair the ASEAN-US summit online, but this would depend on all sides making a mutual commitment [to do so] for the common good,” he said.

On Myanmar, US president Joe Biden had expressed his deep concerns regarding the prolonged conflict there and expressed his appreciation for the ASEAN nations’ attention to resolving that crisis, according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a phone conversation with ASEAN ambassadors last month.

Sullivan noted the importance of regional support for the immediate restoration of democracy in Myanmar, underscoring the Biden administration’s commitment to expanding US engagement with ASEAN, according to a statement released by the National Security Council spokesperson last month.

The statement also said that Sullivan and ASEAN ambassadors discussed opportunities for enhanced cooperation on combating climate change, addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, promoting economic recovery, advancing maritime security and encouraging people-to-people ties as well as the importance of ASEAN centrality, which the US supports.

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