Prime Minister Hun Sen led a high-level delegation to attend the EU- ASEAN Commemorative Summit in Brussels with Cambodia as co-chair of the event.

Analysts and political observers see the premier’s visit to Europe as strengthening multilateral mechanisms during a European security crisis, while the EU has set out an Indo-Pacific strategy centred on Southeast Asia.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the Europe trip was part of Cambodia’s role and duties as the rotating chair of ASEAN this year.

He said Cambodia appreciated multilateral mechanisms for global unity and efforts, including regional and global issues frameworks to respond to problems such as global pandemics, energy and food crises and climate change.

“It shows Cambodia’s willingness to engage the outside world in bilateral and multilateral foreign relations. Hun Sen will also have a meeting with French president [Emmanuel Macron], which I see as a positive sign that Cambodia is strengthening cooperation with France.

“One new development of Cambodian foreign policy is its position on the current hot issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where Cambodia’s position is clear and unchanging in that it supports peace and peaceful solutions and rejects the use of force by one country against another,” he said.

Phea said the recent interactions between ASEAN and the EU seemed to have yielded many positive results, as the relationship has evolved from a dialogue partnership to a strategic partnership.

In addition, the EU is developing its own Indo-Pacific strategy with Southeast Asia or ASEAN at its core, as well as some EU countries having their own foreign policies within the Indo-Pacific strategic framework, he said.

Phea added that it was part of the EU’s strategy as an ally of the US to lock in and surround China to reduce its growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Seng Vanly, a professor of international relations, said that Hun Sen’s visit is aimed at strengthening Cambodia’s diplomacy and economy while strengthening European multilateral mechanisms.

He said that as the chair of ASEAN this year, Cambodia could seek a relationship improvement with the EU in some sectors, including trade.

“It is noteworthy that the EU has recently expressed their strong interest in joining the framework of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) and East Asia Summit (EAS). The EU can provide a strategic space for ASEAN as well as Cambodia in flexibility amid growing competition between China and the US.

“Although the EU has close strategic and security ties with the US, it will not follow the US blockade strategy against China, as China is also the EU’s second-largest trading partner and a key player in global challenges,” he said.

He said Cambodia’s approach to leadership in the ASEAN framework has been to continue to engage with the EU to take advantage of EU expertise in areas where ASEAN and Cambodia need technical assistance, such as chemical, biological, nuclear and radiation threats, climate security, maritime security, cyber security, peacekeeping operations, mine action, humanitarian assistance, as well as disaster relief.

Thong Mengdavid, a researcher at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, sees Hun Sen’s visit as a sign of ASEAN’s commitment to strengthening and expanding further ties and cooperation with the EU, especially in the circumstance where the EU is faced with food and energy crises caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

“Apart from the socio-economic cooperation, Cambodia and ASEAN also expressed concern over security and politics in Europe. Some of ASEAN’s small countries are being pressured by China on their sovereignty and territorial integrity, without respect for the international community’s principles of peace and international law,” he said.

Mengdavid stressed that Cambodia has an obligation to maintain and value peace, following Hun Sen’s statement that wars cannot end wars, which requires ASEAN to adhere to the principle of neutrality and seek common peaceful resolutions with the EU to end the war in Ukraine, where security is a common concern of the world, whether in ASEAN or Europe.

Hun Sen led a high-level delegation to Brussels to attend and co-chair the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit to celebrate the 45 years of Dialogue Partnership with Charles Michel, president of the European Council on December 14. They are expected to discuss cooperation between the two regions and focus on strengthening economic ties, people-to-people contacts, digital exchanges and connectivity to ensure “green changes”, energy and food security, and sustainable development.

Hun Sen will also pay a working visit to the French capital Paris for bilateral meetings with Macron and to meet with Cambodians living in Europe as well as participate in the international conference on support for Ukraine.