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Consensus in focus as ASEAN marks 53rd anniversary

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Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn (centre) said ASEAN has steadily grown into a strong community. Foreign Ministry

Consensus in focus as ASEAN marks 53rd anniversary

To mark the 53rd anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN on Saturday, diplomacy head and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn issued a congratulatory message praising the past efforts of the regional body.

The message acknowledged that the entire world is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and a superpower standoff as ASEAN celebrated its anniversary.

“Back in 1967 when ASEAN was formed, the Cold War loomed over all and the region was rife with tensions. Since then, ASEAN has grown from strength to strength, expanding both in size and scope,” he said.

Driven by the desire to safeguard and advance the peaceful development for the region, Sokhonn said ASEAN has been able to prevent the escalation of frictions and conflicts into wars through peaceful means and diplomacy.

“Under the wise leadership of Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia was able to put an end to the civil war in 1998 and became the last member of the ASEAN family in 1999,” he said.

Sokhonn said ASEAN has steadily grown into a strong community spread across 10 countries with unique and diverse social, economic and political structures.

“And it is, in fact, this so cherished “unity in diversity” that has contributed to ASEAN’s resilience and its deep sense of togetherness,” Sokhonn said.

One of ASEAN’s defining features is the consensus-based approach which ensures an equal voice for every member state, regardless of its size or economic strength. Historically, he said ASEAN has striven to bridge the development gap within its member states through programmes like the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI).

Political analyst Em Sovannara said on Sunday that ASEAN has received much attention from the international community and that it had laid out basic principles according to three pillars – politics, security and culture-economy.

He said the pillars had yet to be implemented successfully as ASEAN had only succeeded in integrating economies. But political and security issues couldn’t be solved as of yet because the body has inconsistencies and lacks unified principles.

Sovannara said: “Obviously, there are issues in the South China Sea involving Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, which are confronting China over this conflict.

“While Cambodia and Laos seem to have one stance towards China, the remaining four countries are waiting to benefit from China and the parties to the conflict.

He said since Cambodia became an ASEAN member in 1997, it has restored its image by implementing sound foreign policies.

“But what Cambodia has obtained from ASEAN seems to be very little. It is not like what we wanted,” he said.

Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said unity and the implementation of the three pillars seemed to pose certain difficulties because China and the US had engaged in geopolitical competition in the South China Sea.

He said some ASEAN countries are also involved in disputes with China, while the US tries to bind itself to the disputes.

The US had encouraged countries which have disputes with China to oppose it, he said, adding that the US has also sent submarines and navy vessels to the South China Sea, which China deems a threat.

“When it comes to assistance, I think that Cambodia has helped ASEAN a lot and it has also benefited much from ASEAN.

“Cambodia has tried to coordinate [with] some countries which had disagreements with China and mediated disputes in the region. For benefits, Cambodia has gained a lot of economic volumes and attracted countries in the European region,” he said.

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