Australian Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne arrived in Cambodia on November 7 to highlight her government’s support for the Kindgdom’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022 and to advance other areas of diplomatic cooperation.
“The arrival of Marise Payne this morning marks the first visit by an Australian foreign minister to Cambodia since 2014. [This is] a timely opportunity given Cambodia’s new role as ASEAN chair and our nearly 70 years of [diplomatic] relations. [I am] looking forward to constructive discussions over the next couple of days,” tweeted Australian ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang.
Ahead of her visit, Payne – who also serves as Minister for Women – said she is also slated to visit Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia this week to “advance our relationships with key partners, including the strengthening of our shared work to promote the region’s economic and health recovery from Covid-19.
“In Cambodia, I will highlight Australia’s support for the country’s role as the new chair of ASEAN. I will meet with members of the Cambodian government to discuss our long-standing engagement on a broad range of issues, including Australia’s support to Cambodia and its nearest neighbours through the A$232 million [US$171 million] Mekong-Australia Partnership,” she said.
She said the bilateral meetings and high-level discussions will reinforce Australia’s relationship with the Indo-Pacific region and its support for ASEAN centrality, which is underscored by strong economic links, security ties, human relations and joint efforts to recover from Covid-19.
“ASEAN centrality is at the heart of Australia’s vision for the Indo-Pacific,” Payne said.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation announced Payne’s two-day visit on November 5.
The ministry said Payne will pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Hun Sen and then have a bilateral meeting with her counterpart Prak Sokhonn, during which various aspects of Cambodia-Australia cooperation will be discussed.
Regional and international issues of common interest and concern – including Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2022 – will also be on the agenda.
Payne will then visit the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre and meet with her counterpart Ing Kantha Phavi.
“The official visit of Senator Marise Payne to Cambodia reaffirms Australia’s commitment to working more closely with the Kingdom to further enhance relations in both bilateral and multilateral frameworks for the mutual benefit of the two countries,” the ministry said.
The visit came just days after Hun Sen openly questioned Australia’s pledge of 2.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Cambodia and whether those would materialise any time soon.
“The donation by Australia of 2.3 million Pfizer doses along with the necessary cooling system for storing them was promised a long time ago. [My] apology to [Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison] – who I just met with recently – for even mentioning this,” he said on November 1.
It could not be immediately confirmed if this will be brought up during her visit.
Political analyst Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the Kingdom will not likely raise this issue with Payne, though he suggested that Payne clear up the confusion around this matter when meeting with Sokhonn.
“I think Australia will provide the vaccines, but the procedures may take some time as it may need to purchase them and then send them through the Covax Facility,” he said, referring to the global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
“I don’t think Cambodia as the aid-receiving country will raise the vaccine topic, but the Australian side should be prepared to give a clear update on the progress of their plans to donate them,” he said.
Regarding Australia’s pledge to support Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN next year, Phea said strong international support, including Australia’s, will help Cambodia’s agenda for the ASEAN summit proceed smoothly.