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Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

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ASEAN foreign ministers and other officials cross arms and hold hands for photos at the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meetings (AMM). Hong Menea

Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era.

The following is The Post’s recap of the 55th AMM as it concludes on August 5; an overview of the official statements and unofficial comments made on the sidelines; and an analysis of the event’s potential bearing on the Kingdom’s and ASEAN’s relations with the rival superpowers and other important economic and diplomatic partners.

China

In his meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said bilateral relations between Cambodia and China have a solid foundation and depth across many sectors.

Wang said China will continue to support Cambodia’s internal and political policies which respond to the needs of the people, citing the recent commune council elections as proof of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ruling mandate reflecting the will of the people and their support for Hun Sen as the nation’s leader.

“China will continue to strongly support the next generation of leaders, which is key to protecting the peace in Cambodia, as well as for the sake of friendship and cooperation between Cambodia and China. This is especially true as the two countries are building a community of common destiny,” Wang was quoted as saying in the premier’s social media post after the meeting.

In response to Wang’s remarks, Hun Sen said Cambodia’s commitment to its friendship with China would be unwavering and durable regardless of changes in the Kingdom’s leadership when the current leaders pass the torch along to the next generation.

Wang also pointedly thanked Hun Sen for publicly reiterating Cambodia’s commitment to the “One-China Policy”, following the August 2 visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan – the first by a top US official in 25 years.

Russia

During a meeting with Hun Sen on August 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov updated him on the situation surrounding the Ukraine conflict and Moscow’s view of the ongoing war, among other topics, according to the premier’s social media post, which did not go into further detail as to what Lavrov may have discussed specifically.

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The ASEAN-Russia Ministerial Meeting on August 4 in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

“[Hun Sen] said the relationship between Cambodia and Russia is rooted in its long history and that Cambodia always prioritises the strengthening of their friendship and cooperation,” the post said, adding only that Hun Sen thanked Russia for their past support for the Kingdom as evidenced by institutions such as the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh, built by the former USSR.

EU

Hun Sen also met with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on the morning of August 4.

Their conversation touched on the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement, EU development cooperation with Cambodia, the EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit involving all 27 EU member states – to be held this December in Brussels, Belgium – as well as the issues of Russia-Ukraine conflict and Myanmar’s ongoing crisis.

Hun Sen thanked the EU for its extensive assistance, cooperation and support since 1992, all of which had contributed greatly to the development of Cambodia. The premier also spoke highly of Covid-19 vaccine donations from the EU to Cambodia.

“With regard to EBA, [Hun Sen] recalled his previous comments, saying Cambodia would never sacrifice its independence in exchange for aid or trade preferences.

“On the issues of Ukraine and Myanmar, Hun Sen requested that the EU reconsider the sanctions against Russia, because they not only affect Russia but are seriously impacting the economy of every country in Europe and the world,” said the premier’s post.

US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Cambodia on the evening of August 3 following a lengthy flight directly from Washington, DC.

During his meeting with Hun Sen on the afternoon of August 4, Blinken said the goal of the US is to have a positive relationship with Cambodia built on existing cooperation such as export markets, free trade and development assistance, according to Hun Sen’s post.

The premier also requested that the US reconsider the sanctions levelled against Russia because of their impacts on the global economy.

Hun Sen and Blinken also discussed other issues such as the docking of the “Westerdam” cruise ship two years ago during the Covid-19 pandemic’s early days, the search for the remains of US soldiers still lost in Cambodia following the Vietnam War of the 1970’s, the Myanmar crisis and other mutual concerns.

The prime minister reiterated to Blinken that Cambodia remains firmly committed to helping Myanmar return to normalcy and a return to the path of democracy.

Japan

In an approximately 35-minute meeting with his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn, Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Cambodian people regarding the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

According to a press statement by Japan’s foreign ministry, Hayashi reiterated his government’s readiness to cooperate with Cambodia to make the Sihanoukville Port operate as an economic and logistics hub for the Kingdom and the region.

Hayashi also welcomed this year’s mutual high-level visits by defence officials and the implementation of the capacity building projects for peacekeeping operations (PKO) and the commencement of negotiations for the Terms of Reference (TOR) between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).

“He stated that he would like to promote continuous visits to the Ream Naval Base, including port calls, by the [JMSDF]. In response, [Sokhonn] stated that Cambodia appreciates and values security cooperation with Japan and would like to further advance this idea including during the next visit to Ream Naval Base,” the statement said.

Taiwan tensions

Rising US-China tensions have been further enflamed by the August 2 visit to Taiwan by US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, despite China’s vocal dismay and consternation over the trip, which they believe undermines their “One-China” policy.

ASEAN’s foreign ministers are calling on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from provocative actions and uphold the principles enshrined in the UN Charter as well as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).

In a press statement released late on August 3, ASEAN’s top diplomats – who are gathering in Phnom Penh for the 55th AMM – reiterated that the bloc’s member states support the “One-China” policy, which effectively means that they refuse diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and limit their government’s contacts with Taiwan’s, but treat it as a separate territory for most practical purposes.

“The world is in dire need of wisdom and responsibility from all leaders to uphold multilateralism and partnerships, cooperation, peaceful-coexistence and healthy competition for our shared goals of peace, stability, security and inclusive and sustainable development,” the statement said.

Without naming Taiwan directly, the foreign ministers’ statement cautioned against the unforeseen consequences of brinksmanship or mutually responding to provocations.

“The recent developments in the area adjacent to the ASEAN region could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflict and unpredictable consequences among major powers,” it warned.

“We should act together and ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue between all parties including through utilising ASEAN-led mechanisms to de-escalate tensions in order to safeguard peace, security and development in our region,” it added.

Speaking at a morning press briefing on the 55th AMM on August 4, Cambodia’s foreign ministry secretary of state Kung Phoak said the ASEAN foreign ministers hope de-escalation will quickly be brought about and tensions across the Taiwan Strait will dissipate as soon as possible.

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