C AMBODIA today in Brunei becomes an official observer to one of the world's
fastest growing and powerful regional blocs, the Association of South East Asian
To most, it's Cambodia's "window to the
Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace executive director
Kao Kim Hourn said this first step toward full ASEAN membership "will forever
change the course of Cambodian foreign policy".
Others say its like
thinking about jumping onto a speeding train. Foreign Relations committee
chairman Om Radsady is wary of not rushing to "join an exclusive golf club not
really yet knowing how to play the game."
In the same ceremony in Brunei,
Vietnam becomes the seventh ASEAN member and the first "new kid" since the
meeting's host joined in 1984.
ASEAN's other members - "tigers" that
Radsady and others say Cambodia must cautiously emulate and join so as not to be
isolated - are Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and
ASEAN's vision of an "ASEAN 10", incorporating every South
East Asian nation, will be complete with the eventual signatures of Cambodia,
Laos and Myanmar.
Recent statements by key Cambodian leaders indicate
their country is looking to the ASEAN "family" for special help.
Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a speech on June 27, said that being
part of ASEAN would give Cambodia "... a confidence of security... because, as I
understand it, family members would help each other, particularly in time of
Foreign Minister Ung Huot had earlier said that Cambodia could
join more quickly as full members if other ASEAN countries gave "preferential
terms of trade".
There is no specific agenda for Cambodia to join as a
full member. Political leaders in Phnom Penh say membership is inevitable, but
at some indeterminate time in the future.
Cambodia's observer status is
free; full membership costs $2 million in the first year and $1 million each
year thereafter and that's a problem for the Royal government.
more difficult is the fact that we have to train people to attend (ASEAN)
meetings, and contribute to dialogue and decisions," Radsady said.
has around 300 meetings annually, and Cambodia must pay for its own observers -
proficient in English - to go to as many as they can afford.
ministry officials are now training in ASEAN issues in Malaysia. Fifteen more
from six ministries will begin training in Malaysia next month, according to
Huot. Singapore and Canada have also offered help to train Cambodian ASEAN
Radsady said: "We have to organize accommodation and
conference places for ASEAN meetings when we are members."
"We are only
now training Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, and ourselves as MPs... our
Parliament has still not established all the laws, or seen that the laws we have
adopted are good or well implemented," he said.
"We need to be strong and
ready ourselves first (before joining ASEAN)."
Ung Huot, in a speech on
June 19, said: "As we learn more of ASEAN's procedures and the heavy
concentration of meetings every year, we become increasingly aware that we are
going to have to engage in a considerable amount of training of our
As full members, each country must be committed to opening
their markets to ASEAN products and lower tariffs by 2003 under the ASEAN Free
Trade Area (AFTA).
Dr Sorpong Peou of the Canada-ASEAN Center in
Singapore said in a speech on June 26 that Cambodia's low level of
industrialization could make it difficult for it to become competitive "and
enjoy mutual economic benefits under AFTA".
Peou said Cambodia might find
ASEAN membership a burden rather than a relief in the short
However, he said, Cambodia would lose out in the longer term if it
continued to depend on one particular great power (China or the United States)
without the shield of a regional organization.
Huot said that Cambodia
was looking forward to joining ASEAN as a full member but understood the need
for "a considerable number of adjustments" before it could join
However, he said, the Cambodian government was prepared to make the
"I also believe that the integration of Cambodia into ASEAN could
be significantly facilitated if ASEAN could consider providing Cambodia
preferential treatment in terms of trade," Huot said.
said that while Cambodia's entry to ASEAN was vital, observer status was
important as a "means (of) learning, studying and research(ing)."
must, however, caution that we must understand ourselves first before we rush to
do anything, because the process is irreversible," Prince Ranariddh
"Yes, we have a stake, a desire and an interest in ASEAN. It is in
the observership that we must learn all the rules and nature of the game."