ASEAN Chairmanship 2012: What Cambodia can deliver?

Cambodia will assume ASEAN Chairmanship at the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali this week. Prime Minister Hun Sen will be offered to be the chair of ASEAN Summit next year. There are some expectations especially from the Cambodian public that Cambodia can continue the momentum of ASEAN cooperation and integration especially ASEAN can create an effective conflict resolution mechanism in the region.

There are many things that Cambodia can do to contribute to the region. Cambodia needs to identify and exert its comparative advantages such as narrowing the development gap, linking regional integration with poverty reduction and sustainable development, food security, demining and peacekeeping operation, flood management and humanitarian relief, responsibility to protect (RtoP), maritime security, and water resources security.

The challenges, however, for Cambodian chairmanship are (1) the potential contagious effect of the debt crisis in Europe to Southeast and East Asia since Euro Zone is the main export market of the region.  (2) the trend of climate change and its threat is getting more serious in the region particularly the recent flooding in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam. Finding a common solution to adapt and cope with climate change is a huge task for Cambodia. (3) the strategic competition between China and the United States in the region can drift ASEAN apart if ASEAN unity is not resilient enough especially on the issue of the South China Sea. (4) Mekong River management is getting more complicated since the upstream riparian countries continue to construct hydropower dams without conducting serious scientific study on the impact assessment on the environment, biodiversity and people livelihood. Any change in the Mekong River flow will definitely downgrade the whole ecological system of the river and its wetlands which seriously negatively impact on the Mekong people.

What Cambodia can do to overcome those challenges and achieve what it is expected for is strong leadership with creative ideas.  For instance, Cambodia can  apply its win-win strategy to the regional level when it comes to conflict management and resolution, and national reconciliation. Cambodia as a non claimant sate in the South China Sea can provide a neutral and impartial position to mitigate the conflict by helping to build trust and confidences among the claimant states. Moreover, it can speed up the construction process of an ASEAN community by focusing more on implementation, implementation, and implementation.

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