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Smooth summit caps Kingdom’s widely praised year as chair

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ASEAN leaders and US President Joe Biden pose for a group photo at the ASEAN–US Summit in Phnom Penh on November 12. Hong Menea

Smooth summit caps Kingdom’s widely praised year as chair

Cambodia has now successfully wrapped up its ASEAN Summit hosting duties – along with much of its remaining work as chair of the intergovernmental organisation this year – in its third turn taking on the ASEAN leadership role since the Kingdom joined the bloc in 1999.

The 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings drew wide interest from nations globally, with top leaders from around the world including US President Joe Biden, China’s Premier Li Keqiang and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, to name but a few, all in attendance.

Over the course of the past four days, several dozen meetings had been held – including the officially scheduled ones and the less formal discussions that took place more discreetly on the sidelines. The official count includes the ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Korea, ASEAN-UN, ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Korea), ASEAN-India, ASEAN-Australia, ASEAN-Japan, ASEAN-Canada and ASEAN-US gatherings.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the summit on the morning of November 11, Prime Minister Hun Sen – in his capacity as chair of ASEAN – said that a long list of over 100 official outcome documents would be adopted to guide the bloc’s actions and diplomatic cooperation in the coming years.

While praising the progress the intergovernmental organisation had made, Hun Sen also called for upholding the values that ASEAN was built on and stood for – including the motto “ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community”. He emphasised that this is especially important as the bloc presently stands at an “uncertain juncture” in history.

“Let’s focus on the common goal of mutual development for peace, stability and the betterment of the region. Our close relationship was not created by chance, but through years of hard work, commitment and perseverance.

“We must treasure and be grateful for what we have built. Therefore, maintaining our unity, solidarity and centrality is of utmost priority in order for our region to remain sustainable and resilient through what is to come,” he said.

ASEAN Summit

Following the summit, ASEAN leaders released three statements: the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the 55th Anniversary of ASEAN; ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together; and the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on ASEAN Connectivity – Post-2025 Agenda.

According to the principle trio of statements, ASEAN leaders have agreed to strengthen ASEAN centrality and ASEAN-led mechanisms for promoting peace, security and prosperity while shaping an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture.

Politically, they also committed to maintaining an ASEAN community which remains cohesive, responsive and relevant for addressing challenges to regional peace and security, while deepening engagement with external partners and contributing collectively to global peace, security and stability.

The statements said ASEAN will continue to address key regional and global challenges, non-traditional security issues and transnational crimes such as illicit drug trafficking, trafficking-in-persons, terrorism, violent extremism and other trans-boundary challenges such as maritime-related issues, in collaboration with the international community.

The statements said ASEAN will promote economic cooperation among all member states and with external partners as well as socio-cultural cooperation and active cultural outreach to other nations.

“We agreed to maintain ASEAN as a region of peace, freedom, stability and security, where differences and disputes are resolved by peaceful means and free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction [WMD] as ensured through the effective implementation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone [SEANWFZ] Treaty and its Plan of Action,” said a point in the statement regarding the ASEAN chair’s theme of Addressing Challenges Together.

They also focused on accelerating the development of clean energy in order to transition to it and strengthening regional energy resilience, social protection and resilience for ASEAN’s peoples, including the protection of the rights of migrant workers, among others.

ASEAN-Republic of Korea (ROK)

The 23rd ASEAN-ROK Summit was co-chaired by Hun Sen and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Yoon made an official proposal to upgrade ASEAN-Korea relations to a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, a plan welcomed by ASEAN leaders, according to the official website of the South Korean Presidential Office.

It said Yoon had presented the key content of South Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and emphasised the need to create a rules-based international order in the region based on universal values.

He pledged that his nation would promote a harmonious regional order in which countries respect each other’s rights and interests and seek common ground.

Yoon also announced the ASEAN-ROK Solidarity Initiative and proposed activating a strategic dialogue between the South Korean diplomatic authorities and ASEAN and regularising the ASEAN-ROK Defence Ministerial Meeting.

ASEAN and Korean representatives at the meeting also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the electric vehicles (EVs) and digital fields and actively promote cooperation on climate change and the environment.

South Korea pledged to significantly increase its funding to promote the ASEAN-ROK Solidarity Initiative, which was the tangible commitment that the bloc’s leaders were hoping for when they called for closer cooperation and further development of ASEAN-ROK ties.

“ASEAN is the most important cooperative partner of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. The [South Korean] government will do its best to create a free, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region through solidarity and cooperation with major countries including those in ASEAN,” Yoon’s official website said.

ASEAN-UN

After the ASEAN-UN Summit, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres held a press conference calling for action on climate change, solidarity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and for Myanmar to return to a democratic path.

He reiterated his call for the release of “political prisoners” in Myanmar, an end to violence and a return to democracy, saying this is the only way out of the current crisis. He further said that an inclusive process is required and that Indonesia would work hard to achieve this during their tenure as next year’s ASEAN rotating chair.

“The situation in Myanmar is an unending nightmare for the people of the country and a threat to peace and security across the region. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are horrendous and heartbreaking. I urge the authorities in Myanmar to listen to their people, release political prisoners and get their democratic transition back on track immediately,” he said. “That is the only way to stability and peace.”

ASEAN+3

Hun Sen said that ASEAN+3 (APT) – ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea – is desperately important for ASEAN in all aspects of cooperation, including on the economy, peace and politics.

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ASEAN leaders at the ASEAN+3 Summit in Phnom Penh on November 12. Hong Menea

He said the meeting this time around reflected the unwavering commitment of ASEAN leaders and the three partners to strengthening and deepening cooperation in all sectors and solving common challenges in the regional and global context.

The outcome statement said the APT sticks to the spirit of unity under all circumstances and that the successes and achievements of the group come from their close cooperation and strong solidarity.

The meeting also touched on several global issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Myanmar crisis and the tensions on the Korean Peninsula – with North Korea frequently test-firing missiles in recent weeks – among others.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Ukrainian territory infringed upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbour and violated international law, including the UN Charter.

Kishida emphasised that any unilateral attempts to change the status quo of national borderlines by force should never be tolerated anywhere in the world, including Asia.

“[Kishida] expressed his intention to deepen cooperation under the APT framework in order to maintain and strengthen a free and open international order based on the rule of law, not force, in the region,” he was quoted as saying in a press statement from the Japanese foreign ministry.

ASEAN-India

The 19th ASEAN-India Summit was co-chaired by Hun Sen and Indian vice-president Jagdeep Dhankhar.

Hun Sen said that over the past three decades, ASEAN and India have made steady progress despite some challenges and that they have now become important socio-economic partners.

He added that as a result of this development, ASEAN-India cooperation has thrived and has a broader base than ever before.

“We have the commitment and resolve to strengthen our partnership so that ASEAN-India can have a closer relationship and a higher capacity to ensure peace and prosperity for our respective peoples, both now and in the future,” he continued.

At the summit, the leaders of ASEAN and India discussed their relations and agreed to further enhance it by promoting existing ties in addition to focusing on people-people relationship through trade and other potential areas.

ASEAN-India dialogue relations grew rapidly from a sectoral dialogue partnership in 1992 to a full dialogue partnership in December 1995. The relationship was further elevated with the convening of the first ASEAN-India Summit in 2002 in Phnom Penh and since then the summit has been held annually.

ASEAN-Australia

During his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the ASEAN-Australia Summit, Hun Sen said he was optimistic that the solid cooperation between ASEAN and Australia will continue and benefit their peoples.

Hun Sen said he appreciated Australia’s unwavering support for ASEAN centrality through their active participation in various ASEAN-led mechanisms and the many achievement made in a short period through the ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Strategy and other initiatives.

He also welcomed the upgrade of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) in the near future.

Albanese said that once implemented, the upgraded AANZFTA will strengthen and improve the trade agreement to ensure it is fit for the future for businesses and trade in the region and that it will provide a stronger foundation for Australian businesses to expand their economic engagement with Southeast Asia.

“The upgraded trade agreement, once in force, will benefit Australian businesses through new chapters and provisions, including on micro, small, and medium sized enterprises, trade and sustainable development and education services. The upgraded agreement will also include enhanced provisions on electronic commerce, competition, customs procedures and trade facilitation, trade in goods, rules of origin, trade in services and investment,” he said.

ASEAN-Japan

The 25th ASEAN-Japan Summit was co-chaired by Hun Sen and his Japanese counterpart Kishida.

Kishida said Japan would hold a Commemorative Summit in Tokyo around December 2023 as next year would be the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan friendship and cooperation.

“[Kishida] expressed serious concerns over the deteriorating situation in Myanmar and underlined his intention to continue supporting ASEAN’s efforts. He also directly urged the Myanmar military to implement the five-point consensus [5PC] at the earliest possible juncture to improve the situation,” said the statement released by Japan’s foreign ministry.

He also express serious concerns about issues related to the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and North Korea’s frequent and provocative test-firing of ballistic missiles.

“In his closing remarks, [Kishida] said he would like to make the golden jubilee of ASEAN-Japan relations a golden opportunity to demonstrate golden friendship between ASEAN and Japan, as is suggested by the name,” the statement said.

ASEAN-Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said ASEAN-Canada relations have significantly grown since 2017, noting that earlier this week his government announced an upcoming launch of its Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at deepening and strengthening its engagement in the region over the long term by putting ASEAN at the centre of the strategy.

He has announced “concrete investments” that he said would pave the way for an ASEAN-Canada free trade agreement (FTA) as part of his government’s commitment to cementing its relationship with the bloc.

“This is a generational shift, and today I’m announcing concrete investments that are part of our commitment to this relationship. Negotiations are underway for an ASEAN-Canada free trade agreement.

“We have so much to offer each other as partners and we look forward to continuing this work together. This is why we’re investing in the ASEAN-Canada plan of action trust fund,” he said.

Trudeau added that not only will this help strengthen ASEAN-Canada partnership, but it will support the participation of all stakeholders in ASEAN-Canada trade negotiations.

“We want Canadian businesses to know more about Indo-Pacific markets, especially sectors and solutions where Canadian innovation can respond to regional demand,” he said. “This means more jobs and more markets for Canadians and it means more growth for ASEAN countries.”

Trudeau said Southeast Asia and Canada share strong people-to-people ties, noting that Canada is home to some of the largest diasporas of Southeast Asians in the world.

“We believe that even closer ties between the region and Canada means more opportunities for everyone,” he said.

Many Southeast Asian students have contributed to enriching Canadian universities and communities, he said, adding that his government will expand its “successful” Canada-ASEAN scholarship and educational exchanges for development programmes in order to continue supporting them.

“This means that more students from ASEAN member states will be able to get exchange opportunities to study in Canada,” he said.

ASEAN-US

ASEAN and the US have agreed to upgrade their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) to enhance cooperation in all sectors as well as address challenges of common concern in the region and beyond.

The agreement was announced at the 10th annual ASEAN-US Summit in Phnom Penh late on November 12 with Hun Sen presiding as ASEAN chair and the leaders of the other ASEAN member states in attendance as well as US President Joe Biden.

The White House also issued a statement saying that this agreement marked an “unprecedented expansion” in ASEAN-US relations, as evidenced by the launch of five new high-level dialogue processes on health, transportation, women’s empowerment, environment and climate and energy as well as deeper engagement in existing dialogues on foreign affairs, economics and defence.

“Under the framework of our newly established US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the US and ASEAN will institutionalise and expand cooperation in each of these important areas in order to support robust implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and promote a free and open region that is connected, prosperous, secure and resilient,” the White House statement said.

ASEAN-China

The 25th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh was co-chaired by Hun Sen and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Hun Sen said China’s inclusive development had promoted regional and global prosperity and that China had applied win-win cooperation and mutual respect to ASEAN-Chinese cooperation, which resulted in fruitful growth over the last three decades for all parties.

“I am optimistic about ASEAN-China cooperation, which is opening a new chapter of strengthening cooperation to unleash vital potential at a time when ASEAN is making its own association stronger,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed five points to strengthen ASEAN-China relations. The first is to “build a home of common peace”. To that end, China has signalled that it is ready to deepen cooperation on military and national defence to ASEAN members, increase resources for fighting transnational crime and become a signatory to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaty.

The second is to “build a home of common security”, with China pledging to support ASEAN’s public health efforts and cooperate on disaster management. The third is to “build a home of common prosperity”, with China set to provide $1.5 billion in development aid to ASEAN over the next three years with a focus on growing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement.

The fourth is to “build a home of common beauty” with increased cooperation on developing the green and blue economies and promoting environmental conservation, while the final proposal is to “build a home of common friendship” through cooperation on growing the tourism sector and encouraging people-to-people exchanges.

Up next for many of the world leaders and diplomats meeting at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh will be the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings taking place presently in the Thai capital Bangkok and the G20 summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, scheduled for November 15-16.

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