Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Asean gives the long-awaited green light

Asean gives the long-awaited green light

Asean gives the long-awaited green light

D EFYING speculation of delays to Cambodia's membership into the Association of Southeast

Asian Nations (Asean), representatives of the diplomatic club formally welcomed the

country into the regional fold this week.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi met with the two Prime Ministers

separately on Monday to notify them that Cambodia would be fully accepted on July

23. He was accompanied by Asean Secretary General Ajit Singh to deliver the letters.

The decision to admit Cambodia, as well as Burma and Laos, was made at an Asean

foreign ministers' meeting May 31.

"It was unanimous. There were no reservations on the part of any Asean member,"

Abdullah Badawi told reporters after the meeting.

Earlier, there were reports that some Asean officials had reservations that Cambodian

government was too fragmented to fulfill the obligations of participation as a full

member.

Cambodian officials including both Prime Ministers welcomed the foreign ministers'

decision to admit the Kingdom, while the Asean Secretary General said he was confident

Cambodia was ready to join despite its political difficulties.

Ajit Singh, after his meetings with the Prime Ministers, said: "Of course,

I also informed them that we have some concerns about the situation in the country.

It is our hope that the leaders will be able to resolve whatever problems that they

are having.

"....It is important that as a member of Asean and [if Cambodia] is stable

and peaceful, there are tremendous benefits that they can have...that they never

had before."

Before the Asean decision, some concerns were mitigated by a report by a Malaysian-based

policy think tank that visited Cambodia last month and reported that it was ready

to assume the responsibilities of membership.

The Institute Kajian Dasar, also known as the Institute for Policy Research, issued

a frank assessment of Cambodia's current political climate in a May 27 report titled

"Cambodia in Asean - Partnership for Peace and National Reconciliation".

During a whirlwind two-and-a-half day visit, the group met the Prime Ministers,

Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Finance Minister Keat Chhon, and Foreign Minister Ung

Huot among others.

The report was forwarded to the special meeting of Asean foreign ministers in

Kuala Lumpur May 31. Despite the candid observations in their findings, the mission

may well have tipped the balance in Cambodia's favor.

The first section of the report titled 'The Present Situation in Cambodia' begins:

"The situation is grave."

It outlines the escalation in hostility between the ruling parties, their propensity

for rhetoric, and the use of "private armies" to protect the two Prime

Ministers.

Internecine rivalries and defections within parties, notably Funcinpec, and the

"understandable reluctance" of King Norodom Sihanouk to referee all of

these conflicts was also reported to cause concern.

The language of the document was terse, but not without flair: "Cambodia's

politics at this juncture is a simmering cauldron of conflict, distrust and suspicion.

The situation, we fear is fraught with danger. An individual act, a single event,

can catalyze a chain reaction leading to widespread violence and destruction."

Despite a nihilistic initial assessment, the authors offered a guarded sense of

optimism: "The situation is indeed grave. But it is not hopeless. It is not

beyond repair. In fact, even though we take into serious consideration some of the

more alarmist viewpoints, we are encouraged by the fact that there are also a number

of signs which augur well for Cambodia's immediate future."

A widely held desire for peace among Cambodians was one reason for hope, as was

the bi-partisan Joint Commission for Abnormal Conflict Resolution.

The commission was seen as a key stabilizing influence, with its expressed hope

to keep the bulk of the Royal Cambodian army and police out of any future bi-partisan

fighting. "By virtue of their collective command over military and security

personnel, they have the capacity for preventing the conflict between the two ruling

parties from escalating towards sustained and widespread violence," the report

states.

Other reasons for optimism given were the diminishing threat of the Khmer Rouge

and the relatively sound state of the Cambodian economy.

Aside from studying Cambodia's political and economic climate, the participants

tried to assess Cambodia's willingness and ability to participate fully in the activities

of the group. "With the number of Asean meetings fast approaching 250 a year,

membership is likely to become a costly undertaking," the authors warned. "Moreover,

it is felt that Cambodia does not have a sufficient number of officials with adequate

English-language training to attend and participate fully in all of these meetings."

The question also arose of whether the Cambodian government is willing to lose

tariff revenues, widen its trade deficit with Asean countries and open up industries

to foreign competition. These would be the costs of adhering to the Asean Free Trade

Area (AFTA ) guidelines, which are requisites for Asean membership.

The study group surmised that the perceived benefits outweighed the costs of joining

Asean in the minds of Cambodian policy makers.

The team's conclusion given to the meeting of Asean foreign ministers recommended

Cambodia for membership, despite the country's shortcomings.

"We believe that Cambodia's present political predicament should not be used

as reason or justification for keeping her out of Asean," the report ends.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • Nestle’s debut may spur dairy market

    Leading confectionery manufacturer Nestle plans to invest in Cambodia by setting up an operation in the near future, a move majorly hailed by local dairy farmers as a means of boosting the fresh milk market in the Kingdom. During a visit by a delegation led

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement