Prime Minister Hun Sen shared his thoughts on how ASEAN and Russia could shape the architecture of security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Hun Sen – in his capacity as president of the Cambodian People’s Party – raised this during a roundtable conference with other ASEAN political party leaders on June 29 organised under the theme “The Role of Russia and ASEAN’s Responsible Political Forces in Strengthening the Architecture of Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific”.

The roundtable dialogue was held to mark the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-Russian relations.

In his remarks, Hun Sen noted that the Covid-19 pandemic arrived at a troubling moment when multilateralism was under attack due to the rising forces of unilateralism, populism and protectionism.

The “great power” rivalries made the situation even more complicated with signs that a zero-sum game mentality and a new Cold War was now emerging and divisions in the world order seemed to be gaining steam, ranging from trade wars to technological warfare and even hot proxy-wars, Hun Sen explained.

“The world is witnessing an intense competition between mutually exclusive systems, an escalating clash of values and competition for global leadership, all of which could bring military confrontation or even a new arms race.

“This worrisome trend has even influenced the humanitarian aspects of the Covid-19 vaccines as countries are competing using vaccine nationalism, protectionism, and discrimination – despite the fact that the majority of the world’s population remains in dire need of these vaccines to save lives,” he said.

According to Hun Sen, international relations are broadly being subjected to the corrupting influence of this great geopolitical divide. The pressure is obstructing smaller nation’s rights to self-determination and their right to choose a development path that fits that countries’ national context.

Hun Sen said these dialogue platforms were essential for all countries in sending a strong message to reject this new Cold War mentality, and to make efforts to create space for cooperation beyond this geopolitical divide.

To that end, Hun Sen said, ASEAN and Russian political parties should work closely together on security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. He also said that all ASEAN and Russian political parties needed to focus on the fight against Covid-19 and jointly promote a resilient recovery in the post-pandemic.

“I am optimistic that Russia and ASEAN can do a lot more collectively in this regard through enhancing trade, investment, and tourism flows, among other measures,” he said, underlining the importance in his view of Russia’s engagement with ASEAN.

All political parties needed to double down on their efforts to promote a UN-centric international system to maintain an open, fair, stable and predictable regional architecture for the Asia-Pacific.

“This needs to be based on the principles of mutual respect, mutual understanding, non-interference, and win-win cooperation. To this end, I must reiterate our full adherence to our commitment to the centrality of ASEAN [to Cambodia’s policy outlook], which is an indispensable principle in driving multilateral diplomacy in our part of the world,” he said.

Hun Sen said the gathered political parties should promote practical cooperation on issues that bind them together, not divide them. Those issues were peacekeeping operations, cyber-security, natural disaster management and climate change.

“I reiterated Cambodia’s strong commitment to the promotion of the ASEAN-Russian dialogue relationship especially as Cambodia will undertake the important role of country coordinator for our dialogue relations starting from August 2021.

“Cambodia pins our hope on the role of political parties in ASEAN and in Russia as we address shared challenges together and make efforts to create a better world for friendship, cooperation, peace and sustainable development,” he said.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the dialogue was less critical in importance because it was not held at the state level, but between the political parties.

“Party-to-party dialogue is not so comprehensive because the thoughts shared by the parties are not always definitive in terms of the actual policies of the states. Also, the views expressed by Russia’s political parties are not given much weight internationally because the world still sees Russia through the lens of the cold war,” he said.