The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation August 8 organised the ASEAN Day 2023 to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the founding of the regional bloc.

Cambodia’s top diplomat described how in the past 56 years ASEAN has transformed, from one established to address the Cold War crisis to a leading regional bloc for the Southeast Asian community.

Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn presided over the August 8 celebrations, in the presence of several foreign envoys, representatives of national and international organisations, officials from various ministries and institutions, as well as Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak.

Sokhonn noted that the passage of time seemed swift, and it was hard to imagine that 56 years had passed since the bloc was formed.

“Through the historical ups and downs over these past decades, we stood together to tackle a myriad of challenges, big and small, starting from with the geo-political security issues emanating from the Cold War, to ultimately forging ahead now on building our ASEAN community,” he said.

“Every year we are tested with new, emerging, traditional and non-traditional challenges. As the global and regional security architecture has evolved, we have learned to work together, stay unified, and to find solutions to preserve our centrality, unity and our raison d’etre. As we celebrate our 56th anniversary, we can surely say that we have come a long way,” he added.

Sokhonn noted that as an institution, ASEAN still has a long and complex journey ahead, particularly as the world is going through intense geo-political rivalries. ASEAN unity, friendship and certainly intra-institutional relations will be tested to the limit.

He described the strength of ASEAN as its capability to leverage the diversity of its members as a force, an advantage which had allowed it to produce remarkable achievements over the years.

“We have embraced a rules-based approach. It is undergirded by the ASEAN Charter, which upholds the principles of consultation and consensus-building, non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

“Amid some glitches here and there along the way, our region continues to enjoy peace, security, stability and development. The other strength of ASEAN is our peoples. At the heart of every initiative, project or programme, we seek to improve and advance the wellbeing of our peoples through a full regional integration,” he explained.

Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn greets foreign diplomats at the ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh on August 8. MFAIC

He noted that rapid changes to the global geopolitical landscape and the resulting uncertainties over the recent years have presented new and complex challenges for ASEAN. However, ASEAN efforts to act and respond as one family to address challenges together have enabled it to develop effective and appropriate responses to these difficult issues on the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual interests.

“This dynamic has allowed us to further strengthen ASEAN centrality and elevate our stature when engaging with our dialogue partners and other external friends.

“In the face of any obstacle, ASEAN has, without fail, managed to show our resilience and adaptiveness by tackling them with our own unique and effective approach, the ASEAN way,” Sokhonn said.

Seng Vanly, a lecturer in international relations, said the fact that ASEAN has evolved from five to 10 members – 11 once Timor-Leste is elevated from its current observer status – underscores the success of the regional bloc, especially the leadership capacity of its members.

He said the intergovernmental organisation, in particular, has pushed for peace in the region from ideological warfare, as well as promoting economic growth and foreign relations. It is a fast-growing region in the world, besides the EU, and is tipped to be a major economic power in the future.

“ASEAN has played a very important role in the development of Cambodia, particularly through technical assistance. The Kingdom has transformed from a nation riven by internal conflict and the ongoing effects of the war of the great powers to a country with sustained economic growth and integration with neighbouring countries and others in the region,” he explained.

He was optimistic that if ASEAN can maintain an integrated position and avoid internal divisions, it will experience further economic growth.

“If ASEAN can remain coordinated in the context of geopolitical changes, it will become more prosperous than other regions in the future,” he said.