Prime Minister Hun Sen said sanctions against Russia as a result of its military offensive in Ukraine should be stopped as they have produced no tangible results, and predicted that a global food crisis would ensue in 2023 as a consequence.
Speaking to an audience at the Strategic Outlook on ASEAN session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Hun Sen said: “Sanctions should be stopped because they don’t produce any benefits. Not only do poor countries suffer, even the countries that issued the sanctions are affected … The sanction directly impacts those of us who are not involved in the conflict.”
He said the effects of the war in Ukraine was “very serious”, warning that it could turn out not to be a global military war, but an economic war caused by an energy crisis stemming from worldwide increases in the price of fuel.
Hun Sen said that 2023 “could be the year of the food crisis” owing to issues in global wheat production. “I hope that ASEAN will not be severely affected because almost half of all ASEAN members produce rice… this food crisis has also created other challenges for us,” he said.
If a ceasefire in Ukraine is achieved quickly, this will mitigate severe crisis, he added.
With regards to the outlook on ASEAN, Hun Sen said the bloc is currently at a critical juncture due to the twin harms of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. He noted that the rule-based international order supported by multilateral mechanisms has also been “shaken”.
He said that, while at the May 12-13 ASEAN-US Special Summit in Washington, DC, he informed ASEAN and US leaders in attendance that Cambodia has received a “hot stone, not a hot potato” on the issues of Myanmar and the war in Ukraine. “If it is a hot potato, I can eat it. But it is a hot stone on Myanmar and… the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said, suggesting the issues are without any upside.
However, he then struck a positive note, saying that Covid-19 was no longer a “severe” issue for Cambodia, noting that May 24 was the 17th day the Kingdom recorded zero new cases, after an extensive national campaign that led to 94 per cent of the population being vaccinated.
Lynn Kuok – Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Asia) – said at the WEF session that ASEAN is at a “crossroads between China and the US”, and that the bloc is in the middle of a competition between the two world powers, which has already forced some countries to take a side.
But Hun Sen stressed that ASEAN member states must not side with any hegemony, and revealed that even a superpower had told [him] that ASEAN did not need to take sides.
“We don’t take side with anyone, but it doesn’t mean that we are not working with anyone,” he clarified. “The geopolitical rivalry makes ASEAN’s position difficult … Now we see that there is the Indo-Pacific initiative, how many more of these initiatives are we going to have?”
“I announced in principle that any initiative related to the Indo-Pacific region must serve three purposes, whether you support it or not,” he said, referring to the maintaining of peace, security and development; the enforcing of the principle of non-belligerence; and the upholding of ASEAN centrality.
“Don’t just think that ASEAN follows others. We need to be cautious about any outside mechanisms because, even if they say they respect ASEAN centrality … if they do not support ASEAN initiatives, then what is the point?” he added.
Hun Sen also touched on the South China Sea issue, saying that as ASEAN chair, he wished for the South China Sea Code of Conduct to be signed in Phnom Penh, noting that he was even willing to offer a five-star hotel as a venue to achieve this end.