Cambodia has significantly benefitted from its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) membership, Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) secretary-general Yang Peou said on Thursday during a conference to mark the 52nd anniversary of Asean’s establishment and the 20th anniversary of the Kingdom’s membership in the bloc.

The international conference on “Cambodia and Asean Regionalism in the Context of Indo-Pacific” was organised by the International Relations Institute of Cambodia (IRIC) of the RAC in cooperation with German political think-tank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in the capital.

The event highlighted Cambodia’s benefits and opportunities within Asean, and its commitment to emphasising a high value on the principles of non-interference and respecting the sovereignty of other member states.

“[Moreover], Cambodia makes efforts to reduce gaps in the [context of] regional development and to expand dialogues with external partners,” Peou said, noting that since the Kingdom joined Asean, Cambodians “have had more opportunities to learn about the citizens of neighbouring countries”.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a statement to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Cambodia’s Asean membership.

Hun Sen stressed that, in the context of growing geopolitical competition, it was more important for Cambodia and other Asean member states to maintain strong solidarity to tackle global challenges.

“Cambodia cannot live without connections with the world. The prosperity of all Cambodians depends on regional integration within Asean that could strengthen the nation’s development,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.

IRIC director-general Kin Phea said that over “the last few decades, Asean has been perceived as a reliable security shield as well as the catalyst for regional economic prosperity and dynamism”.

He further lauded Cambodia’s “crucial role that is remarkable in the framework of relations [among Asean member states] inside and outside of [the bloc]”.

Phea continued to acknowledge that Asean has become a strategic region as it had seen major powers competing to spread their influences in the region.

“Twenty years as an Asean member state has allowed a formerly isolated country such as Cambodia that had undergone political and economic embargoes to become a state of equal voices and rights in the framework of regional and international cooperation. The voice of Cambodia is a voice of Asean,” he said.

He also emphasised that foreign investments in Cambodia were not only intended for the Kingdom’s 15 million population but also the more than 600 million people in the region.

However, political analyst Meas Nee said Cambodia remained one of the poorest countries among other Asean member states, and that the Kingdom lagged behind its peers despite having been an Asean member for two decades.

“This [fact] demonstrated that Cambodia’s membership in Asean has not provided major benefits to the Kingdom,” he said.