'Big Guys' have traditionally run the Kingdom, but today a trio of international 'Big Gals' help run the show in Siem Reap.

Three of the world’s most influential women are in Siem Reap today for a series of gab-fests, centered around the ASEAN Business Forum convening all day and late in the evening at Le Meridien Angkor hotel.

The three women are Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Catherine Ashton, aka Baroness Ashton of Upholland, a British Labour politician who in 2009 became the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the European Commission, positions she still holds.

Riding shotgun with Clinton are about 100 US investors who have been in the Kingdom this week for an ASEAN forum in Phnom Penh, and today’s main event, the business forum in the Reap.

The day-long forum will convene cabinet ministers and senior policymakers from the US and ASEAN governments, as well as the business leaders from the US and others from ASEAN, to address the opportunities and challenges that will apparently define the direction of future US-ASEAN economic cooperation. According to an American Chamber of Commerce spiel, “The forum will craft recommendations for strengthening ASEAN’s connectivity agenda and enhancing ties between the US and ASEAN business communities.”

The forum bills Yingluck Shinawatra and Hillary Clinton as special guests. At 6.30pm, a cocktail reception will be held for all participants. A separate private VIP reception honoring Clinton and Yingluck Shinawatra will run concurrently.

At 7pm a plenary dinner will be for all forum participants. Keynote addresses will be delivered by Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Part of the American agenda will be to “rechannel the rivalry with China,” according to the New York Times, which on Saturday July 7 reported, “It has become more common these days for the nation’s chief diplomat [Clinton] to play a role as a business booster. But the extra attention devoted to economics is intended to send a message that Washington recognises that it initially overemphasized the military component of its new focus on Asia, setting up more of a confrontation with China than some countries felt comfortable with.

“‘There’s a nervousness that the two of them shouldn’t get into a fight,’ said a senior Southeast Asian diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to protocol. ‘No one wants to choose sides” between China and the US,’ he said.”

The New York Times added that Mrs Clinton is popular in Asia – “in part because she shows up.”

Also showing up is Yingluck Shinawatra who, according to Thailand’s The Nation newspaper on July 9, was invited by Hillary Clinton to attend the Seam Reap business forum on Friday.

According to The Thai Financial Post, she will fly out of Bangkok at 3pm today on board an air force special aircraft.

According to The Nation she, “Will deliver her speech on investor confidence in the Thai economy, as well as the role of women leaders. Yingluck will also hold a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.”

Foreign Minister Surapong Tohvichakchaikul told Thai media her speech is expected to create and restore confidence among businessmen from the US and ASEAN nations in investment opportunities in Thailand.

It’s perhaps ironic that given the presence of the powerful women leaders at the forum, plus a talk about the role of women leaders, that women business leaders are severely unrepresented among the list of forum moderators and speakers.

In fact according to a list distributed by the American Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, there were no women speakers at all, other than Clinton and Shinawatra.

Meanwhile Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the European Commission, kicked off a five-day Asian mission with a visit to Beijing for the third round of the EU-China Strategic Dialogue on July 9-10, then travelled to Hong Kong for bilateral meetings on July 11. She participated in the nineteenth ASEAN Regional Forum yesterday, and will be in Siem Reap today to visit EU-funded projects, before addressing the Lower Mekong Women's Policy Dialogue together with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Also present at the dialogue will be Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

The two day Policy Dialogue on Gender Equality and Womens Empowerment in the Lower Mekong region is a joint initiative of the US Government and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

According to the official screed, the dialogue, “Will bring together senior government officials, multilateral development bank and NGO representatives, private sector leaders, and the five LMI partner countries most prominent and effective advocates for women and girls. We are also inviting representatives of the Friends of Lower Mekong (FLM) countries.


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