The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is set to hold its annual conference in early March to evaluate its achievements and develop an action plan for the coming year.

The ministry will evaluate its diplomatic accomplishments at the global and regional level, and outline its response to the global economic downturn and international geopolitical crises.

The conference will be held from March 1-3, with the first two days chaired by foreign minister Prak Sokhonn and the closing ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“[We] will discuss global geopolitical changes, developments in regional issues and mechanisms to track Cambodia’s interests and concerns. We will also examine economic diplomacy strategies in the context of the current global economic crisis and discuss institutional reform,” it said in a press release.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will provide guidelines and policy direction for Cambodian diplomats, so they will maintain the country’s core interests, ensure its sovereignty and peace, and promote economic ties.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relation Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the conference is important as it allows the government to survey its work results and lay out its future foreign policy.

“Cambodia has achieved many diplomatic successes in recent years, especially during its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022,” he said, suggesting that the government continue to focus on ASEAN centrality, as the regional intergovernmental organisation benefits the nation both economically and diplomatically.

“[But] the government, which has been criticised by some western powers for its purportedly close ties with China, especially regarding debt and the Ream Naval Base, does need to address some challenges ahead.

“The Kingdom needs to continue to diversify its diplomacy, open its diplomatic doors and strengthen its comprehensive partnerships with more countries – in addition to its existing relations with China and Japan,” he said.

Vann Bunna, a researcher at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, hoped the conference is expected to include input to improve Cambodia’s foreign policy in the context of geopolitical competition, particularly regarding the significant changes that the world has undergone as a result of the Russia-Ukraine armed conflict.

He believed Cambodia should focus on economic diplomacy that binds friends through mutual economic benefits.

“Cambodia has capable officials who are able to implement foreign policy successfully, which is a good thing. The Kingdom has gained many allies in recent years,” he said.

“There are some negative aspects. The fact that Cambodia is a small developing nation is a barrier in some ways, and the perceived decline of democracy is an obstacle to relations with the west,” he added.

Seng Vanly, a lecturer in international relations, said the assembly is more important than ever due to a two-year disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis. The heating up of Asia-Pacific geopolitics also means the meeting is timely.

“The assembly presents an opportunity for the ministry to hear recommendations from experts in the field of diplomacy. This will allow it to better prepare to participate in regional and international organisations,” he added.

“The assembly may discuss Cambodia’s vision to strengthen diplomacy with existing traditional friends and expand its influence with new friends, such as countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America. To certain extent, doing so will allow the Kingdom to avoid problems caused by the tense geographical competition of the great powers,” he said.