summary report of the First Phnom Penh Strategic Forum, January 17, 2012

  1. The first Phnom Penh Strategic forum, co-organized by the General Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs of the Ministry of National Defense and the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, attracted great attention from scholars, defense officers, as well as diplomats. There were more than 150 participants out of which twenty percent were from the ADMM Plus countries.
  2. The forum touches on the emerging regional security issues and the evolving regional security architecture particularly the ADMM and ADMM Plus security dialogue mechanism.
  3. In his opening address, Lt. General Nem Sowath emphasized the significance of track 1.5 in promoting security dialogues and cooperation. He called for the support of fellow countries in preparing for the ADMM and its related meetings this year.
  4. In his keynote address of HE General Tea Banh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense of Cambodia, four key security issues were highlighted namely: Natural Disaster and Humanitarian Relief (HADR), Maritime Security cooperation, Peacekeeping Operation and the Responsibility to Protect, and Security Sector Governance and Reform.
  5. Regarding the issue of maritime security, HE General Tea Banh clarified the policy guidelines of the National Committee on Maritime Security and the necessity to upgrade the maritime capability of Cambodia.
  6. Concerning the issue of South China Sea and Cambodia-Thailand border conflict, the upcoming ADMM will consider it based on the realities on the ground. Cambodia as the chair of ASEAN and ADMM work hard with other ASEAN colleagues to ensure peace and stability in the region through dialogue and cooperation.
  7. For the 6th ADMM this year, Cambodia will propose a concept paper on ADMM Plus Review. The paper aims to reduce the ADMM Plus meeting interval period from three years to two years.  There are other reserved concept papers on maritime security cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Responsibility to Protect to be considered just in case.
  8. Maj. General Lay Chenda updated on the work in progress and relevant meetings of ADMM and ADSOM Plus. NADI, WG, and ADSOM are the three key support working groups for the ADMM. He explained that the Ministry of National Defense of Cambodia has worked hard to listen and share experiences, knowledge and perspectives on enhancing regional security cooperation.
  9. From the panel discussion, several issues were identified such as; first, the strategic competition between the superpowers especially between US and China in the region can disrupt the ASEAN based regional architecture. ASEAN needs to strengthen its unity and solidarity in order to stay independent and neutral for the power conflict and confrontation.  Second, in order to host successfully ADMM, Cambodia needs to further consolidate its coordination work within the countries and the region. Close consultation can help Cambodia to accommodate different interests among the member states of ASEAN. Third, it is necessary and urgent to have more frequent meeting of the ADMM and two years timeframe is suitable enough for regional defense leaders to reflect and take actions. Fourth, it is not necessary to expand or to add new area of security cooperation within ADMM Plus framework since the existing five areas including maritime cooperation, HADR, peacekeeping operation, counter-terrorism, and military medicine are being undertaken.

10. Senior Colonel Tran Hau Hung from the IDIR of Vietnam shared Vietnamese experiences in hosting ADMM and ADMM Plus in 2010.  It is necessary to assign clearly different duties and tasks of different agencies. Skill training for the secretariat including Liaison Officers and other protocol staffs. We need to conduct several meetings to get feedback, draft documents especially concept papers and joint declaration, and assessment. As a chair, it needs to understand common views, balance of interests, seek common interest; define goal and agenda; closely coordinate among relevant agencies.

11. Mr. Jeff Daigle, Charge D’ Affairs of the US Embassy, shared his views on the US’s engagement in Asia. He stated that the Asia Pacific region is facing with increasing security challenges as well as opportunities. He underscores US’s commitment in Asia in broadening and deepening its comprehensive approaches to Asia especially in the field of strategic and security. The US regards sea lanes of communication as a pressing security challenge need to be addressed. He reaffirmed that US is the Pacific Power and called for the increase of multilateral forum and multilateral diplomacy over South China Sea. It needs collaborative approaches to the realization of the Code of Conduct. He clarified that ADMM can fill the gap and complement to the ARF and EAS.

12. Ambassador Pou Sothirak, from ISEAS Singapore, gave a look at the weaknesses and strengths of the East Asia Summit. As an open, inclusive, transparent, and outward looking, EAS has accommodated almost all superpowers in the world. But it is also facing with great powers rivalry. ASEAN cannot avoid but has to face the heat wave especially produced by the strategic competition between Rising China and the Falling United States. US’s return to Asia can help to create a strategic equilibrium in the region. US-China relationship influences regional architecture to a large extent.  South China Sea is case in point in explaining how US-China power game has been played.

13. Mr. Daljit Singh, from ISEAS Singapore, provided ten points. First, ASEAN based regional architecture is still evolving. As there are increasing uncertainties we need to have a pragmatic approach. Second, US and China are the two key players. Third, strategic competition between major powers is increasing. Fourth, ASEAN needs to continue to soften the power rivalry by being more coherence and cohesiveness. Fifth, ASEAN can take benefits from major powers. Sixth, ASEAN needs to avoid any dominance of any superpower. Seventh, ASEAN neutrality is crucial and needs to be strengthened. Eight, ASEAN’s open regionalism and the US’s engagement do not aim to contain China. Ninth, China’s inspiration is commensurate with China’s power. There is no major external threat to China at the moment. Tenth, South China Sea should be carefully addressed among the claimant states.

14. During the roundtable discussion, it found out that security sector governance and security sector reform should be further discussed and elaborated within ASEAN cooperation context. Although there some areas seem to be overlapping in security cooperation among the existing security cooperation mechanism such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, and ADDM Plus, these mechanisms on the other hand well complement each others in scope and functionality.  The ASEAN way of cooperation should be pursued (consultation and consensus principles need to be respected). ASEAN should discuss on less sensitive issues in order to build good relations, trust and confidence before discussing on sensitive issues.

15. In his concluding remarks, HRH Samdech Norodom Sirivudh stated that we have done and made great progress in confidence building measures but we need to do more in preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution mechanism. HRH re-emphasizes the importance of security sector governance and reform in building an ASEAN Political Security Community.

16. In general, the forum provided the platform the ADMM commission especially the Ministry of National Defense to test its defense policy and get some feedback from the relevant parties. It was also an occasion to publicize the work of the Ministry of National Defense and its capacity to prepare and arrange the ADMM successfully. It is important to strengthen track 1.5 security dialogue in Cambodia and Southeast Asian region in order to increase mutual understanding and collaborative efforts for peace and stability in the region. In addition, it demonstrates the good relations between military and civilians in the region.

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