Reflections on Cambodian Chairmanship of ASEAN 2012

At the start of assuming ASEAN chairmanship, Cambodian leaders expressed their expectations and responsibilities in finding some appropriate ways to manage and solve conflicts in the region. As chair, Cambodia has the task to provide a smooth dialogue on certain issues such as the North Korean issue and the South China Sea issue.

At the 20th ASEAN Summit in April this year, Cambodia did prove its leadership role in promoting peace and development in the region through cooperation and confidence building. ASEAN leaders adopted four key documents namely the Phnom Penh Agenda, the Phnom Penh Declaration, Drug Free ASEAN, and Global Movements of the Moderate.

However, in the mid of its celebration, the regional security tensions increased unexpectedly over the South China Sea especially from May (fortunately, the tensions did not take place before the ASEAN Summit), which led to serious crack among the ASEAN family on how to cope with such complicated issue.

The failure of Cambodia as a chair to issue a joint statement after the 45th AMM need to be read from multidimensional and broad perspectives. It involves the rapid development of the South China Sea issue. It should have frequent serious consultation among the ASEAN foreign ministers before coming the meeting. Quiet diplomacy was not exerted. So when they came to Phnom Penh with different agendas, then they could not reach consensus.

It needs to be understood that the negotiation on the Code of Conduct or any statement on the South China Sea need to be cautiously internally discussed before opening to the public. Otherwise, the mass media will create more problems than solutions.

Unfortunately, things went wrong already. To fix the issue, Indonesia started to take leadership, which is very brave and important step to bring ASEAN family together again. Actually they still can talk but the moments of misunderstanding and miscalculation at the few hours meeting prevented them from building mutual understanding and trust.

It is a good lesson learned and experience for the ASEAN family. They rather fight first before coming to the meeting. They rather keep the sensitive issues low profile rather than inflating them. ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny still prevail the storm! Bravos ASEAN!

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