The gavel symbolising the ASEAN chairmanship’s authority was handed over to Cambodia by Brunei on October 28 to begin the country’s year-long tenure holding the rotational mantle of leadership for the regional bloc for the third time in the Kingdom’s history.

Prime Minister Hun Sen made remarks for the occasion underscoring Cambodia’s commitment to upholding the three pillars of ASEAN – political-security cooperation, economic cooperation and socio-cultural cooperation – as a central priority for its 2022 chairmanship.

Speaking at the handover ceremony on October 28 via videoconference due to Covid-19, Hun Sen said Cambodia was proud to once again be taking on the ASEAN chairmanship and that he in turn was personally proud of Cambodia for the great progress it has achieved.

Hun Sen expressed his gratitude and appreciation for Brunei’s leadership of ASEAN in 2021 and all it did to fulfil the words of the 2021 motto: “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper”.

“As the chair of ASEAN in 2022, Cambodia will steer ASEAN’s collective efforts to accomplish our most important tasks – especially expediting the rebuilding process of an equitable, strong and inclusive ASEAN Community – in accordance with the core spirit of ASEAN’s basic principles of “One Vision, One Identity and One Community,” Hun Sen said.

Regarding the ASEAN pillar of political-security cooperation, the prime minister said Cambodia will focus on strengthening ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN Unity through regional mechanisms and with external partners’ cooperation.

He said Cambodia will be guided in all matters by the ASEAN Way and Principles as stipulated in the ASEAN Charter and “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia” as well as the more recent “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”.

“ASEAN must be resilient and strong against any pressures or influences stemming from the rising tensions of geo-political competition – as well as the familiar challenges of transnational crime and terrorism – or potential challenges from climate change and novel infectious diseases, in order to ensure our way forward in peace, security and prosperity,” he said.

Hun Sen said the Kingdom would reinforce the pillar of economic cooperation by promoting effective implementation of all ASEAN initiatives and measures as agreed, as well as leveraging trade agreements to maximal advantage so as to expedite the recovery of positive growth rates in the “new normal” post-pandemic.

He said Cambodia will work to ensure that ASEAN remains an attractive and dynamic hub for trade and investment by enhancing both physical and digital connectivity, strengthening the capacity of small and medium enterprises and promoting entrepreneurship among women and youths as priorities.

“Cambodia will strengthen the development of human resources to respond to needs-on-the-ground for community building, promote the participation of women and youth in building and maintaining peace and for developing an inclusive social protection system,” Hun Sen said when speaking about the ASEAN pillar of socio-cultural cooperation.

He pledged that Cambodia would also work to strengthen people-to-people bonds in order to enhance the spirit of “One ASEAN Identity”.

“As the chair of ASEAN in 2022, Cambodia is committed to leading ASEAN by championing the 2022 theme of “ASEAN ACT” – Addressing Challenges Together – to increase harmony, peace and prosperity across the whole region, and I look forward to warmly welcoming all of you to the Kingdom of Cambodia in 2022,” he said.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the chairmanship of ASEAN is a great opportunity for the Kingdom to show its leadership capacity and enhance its roles in regional and international affairs.

He noted that the chairmanship will also help to improve and modernise the popular image of Cambodia in the minds of the rest of ASEAN’s citizenry.

“Because everyone knows that Cambodia was once under occupation, embargo and isolation after being torn apart by wars, but they don’t always know the great extent to which Cambodia has now recovered from that tragic period, nor do they understand the role we can now play in contributing to solutions for regional issues.

Phea said it will give Cambodia the opportunity to move its own regional initiatives to the top of ASEAN’s agenda for 2022 – an advantage the chairmanship provides to each chair in turn for their year and is therefore acceptable due to its basic fairness.

“I can also see that Cambodia will be tossed a very hot rock and it will need to juggle it quickly after catching it to avoid getting burned. I refer, of course, to the South China Sea issue, an unwelcome guest which now turns up on ASEAN’s doorstep annually and without fail.

He noted that while Covid-19 and the economic recovery from it would be the top priorities, there was another “hot” issue of a controversial nature that could complicate Cambodia’s year as ASEAN chair.

“The situation in Myanmar could escalate – and maybe even turn into a full-scale civil war – and so Cambodia must be well-prepared and ready to deal with any potential crisis there,” he said.