PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Monday hailed the positive impact on Cambodia joining Asean, saying the bloc was a source of peace, security and prosperity.
The remarks were made in a letter published by the prime minister to mark the 20th anniversary of Cambodia becoming a full Asean member on April, 30 1999.
The letter said Cambodia’s Asean membership has become a core national defence policy linking the Kingdom’s socio-economic development and politics to regional integration and international cooperation.
Hun Sen said that 20 years on, Asean members maintained a foundation of unity and did not violate the principles of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and national sovereignty.
The prime minister said Cambodia has also benefited a great deal economically from Asean. He highlighted that collectively, the group had become the Kingdom’s third-largest export market.
Moreover, Asean members are also among the Kingdom’s largest investors, and as of 2016, regional investment accounted for 17 per cent of direct foreign investment in Cambodia. Asean tourists also ranked third among foreign visitors.
However, Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, argued that despite the many benefits Cambodia has received from Asean, the organisation has proved unhelpful in regards to certain issues involving the Kingdom.
“In 2008, when Cambodia had a problem with Thailand, we forwarded the problem to Asean. But the members failed to intervene to seek a proper resolution to the dispute and only appealed to Cambodia and Thailand to have fortitude,” he said.
He was referring to a 2008 Preah Vihear province border dispute between the two nations.
Phea said: “The matter remained unsolved until we took the case to the UN Security Council. At the final stage, we took the judgment from The Hague for the International Court of Justice to interpret again, at which point they ruled in favour of Cambodia.”
Social analyst Meas Nee said that although the open economic market facilitated by Asean has helped Cambodia’s economy to grow, data showed that the Kingdom was facing a trade imbalance with the bloc and imported far more than it exported.
“We import [goods] from our neighbouring countries worth from $4 to $5 billion a year, but we export [goods] worth no more than $500 million a year. This is a problem that needs to be considered,” he said.
Nee said the government has not yet demonstrated significant success in agreeing market access for Cambodia’s agricultural products, with many Asean countries barring imports due to food safety concerns.
He said this was the reason why the Kingdom’s farmers were discouraged and millions of people were flocking to work in foreign countries. If these obstacles are not resolved in the near future, Nee said, then it will severely harm Cambodia’s economy.