Cambodia as ASEAN Chair in 2022 From A Youth Perspective
Jun 22, 2021
Written by: Houy Sivly, a 3rd year student majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Paragon International University
Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News
(Photo Credit: This photo was posted on ASEAN Facebook page.)
On 30th April 1999, Cambodia was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Since then, the country undertook the role of ASEAN chairmanship twice, the first in 2002 and the second in 2012. With the chairmanship experience, I can observe that Cambodia did not perform well. One of the most commonly raised examples is ASEAN, under Cambodian leadership, failed to deliver the joint communique for the first time in 45 years after its establishment.
And in less than six months from now, Cambodia will once again take the ASEAN helm. Many expect the country to take its leadership role to promote ASEAN unity and solidarity while working closely with all member states to address the complex regional issues. Besides, Cambodia will act in accordance with the ASEAN Principle of non-interference and respect sovereignty while concurrently pursuing the national interest, particularly in the economic sphere.
But personally speaking, what is more important is that Cambodia's chairmanship will encounter many critical issues such as regional and international health crises, regional intra-states conflicts and great-power rivalries in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific.
Some daunting challenges Cambodia will handle
As the ASEAN chair in 2022, Cambodia will face many complex and identical challenges, but I want to highlight a few. First is the South China Sea dispute, which has been hampering ASEAN unity for many decades.
In addition, assuming that the political crisis in Myanmar will prolong without parties reaching any agreeable solutions, Cambodia will likely have to navigate the regional grouping in dealing with this complicated issue. This crisis, if not managed well, could jeopardize the ASEAN credibility, unity and values. The stake is extremely high as currently, anti-Junta protestors and members of the National Civil Disobedience Movement have repeatedly lambasted ASEAN's slow action and even spoken out of leaving the bloc.
Another challenge is the COVID-19 pandemic. As the chair, Cambodia also needs to ensure that all members in solidarity can set out a clear path toward recovery. Therefore, the region can effectively deal with all adverse economic and social impacts and other arising post-pandemic challenges.
What should Cambodia prepare for 2022 ASEAN chairmanship?
Speaking of South China disputes, Cambodia should always clearly identify its national interest and work in parallel with the ASEAN principles, be they the basic principle of state sovereignty and consensus. Even though Cambodia is not a claimant state, Cambodia arguably has been caught between the United States and China amid the great power competition.
Therefore, the country must retain a balance and neutrality to avoid losing friends and benefits. In light of the recent concern over the potential Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval base, Cambodia must also prioritize its stance in strictly upholding its constitution while pursuing a smart and flexible foreign policy amidst the fast-changing regional security landscape. As Prime Minister Hun Sen already declared, Cambodia should never take any decision that appeases any country, eventually causing detrimental effects to the nation and the people. By mentioning neutrality, given that Cambodia is a small and developing nation, it can demonstrate its eagerness and perform the role of the mediator, encouraging all parties to move forward with consultation and negotiation to maintain regional peace, security, and stability. As the current chair, Brunei is unlikely to bring the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea to a conclusion this year, one of the main goals during Cambodia's chairmanship would be achieving it.
Meanwhile, Cambodia should also seek to promote ASEAN-led rule-based regional order while strengthening its economic diplomacy to promote diversification of its trading partners and comprehensive economic cooperation within the region.
Concerning the Myanmar political crisis, Cambodia should recognize that attaining a balance between the national interests and ASEAN Principle on mutual respect to avoid offending any parties is very critical. As the chairman, Cambodia should proactively support the solution-seeking process for the Myanmar situation in a position and format that are consistent with the ASEAN principles, and doing so will be acceptable and fair for all parties involved and prevent any regional disunity. It also has to bear in mind that any acts that appear to be taking sides will risk the region's unity and stability. Besides, the Cambodian government should also seek out opportunities that allow the country to engage constructively with relevant parties at bilateral and multilateral levels and in formal and informal ways. Given that the crisis in Myanmar is intricate and Cambodia is small, as long as Cambodia is genuinely keen on helping Myanmar find a way out, there will always be a possibility. Then, it will eventually deliver better resolutions, which can guarantee win-win results once and for all.
Last but not least, it is undeniable that addressing the COVID-19 pandemic impacts will be one of Cambodia's top priorities. Therefore, it should take the initiative to discuss and develop practical action plans and policies to address the current economic and social problems driven by the pandemic. Not only the current problems the bloc has to pay attention to, but it also has to be prepared in responding to the rising impacts in the post-pandemic time.
Tackling the impacts driven by the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented work. Therefore, Cambodia should underline these three important tasks that all members must prioritize and work to achieve. These include delivering effective and speedy recovery, developing a regional public health system that can withstand public health shocks and strengthening regional resilience and competitiveness.
*This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.