The Khmer Times, 26 October 2015
Prime Minister Hun Sen this month laid out Cambodia’s perception of and approach to regional issues. He emphasizes five key terms: peace, harmony, cooperation, integration, and prosperity.
The remarks were made in China at the sixth Xiangshan Forum, the International Conference of Asian political parties on rebuilding the Silk Road, the International Finance Exchange and cooperation on One Belt One Road – the new Silk Road and the new Maritime Silk Road – and the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum.
The rise of Asia is the rise of the world.
But Asia needs to do more to strengthen global governance and its multilateral institutions. Asia needs to become a global stakeholder by assuming greater responsibility and ownership in promoting the global commons, advocating multilateralism, and strengthening a rules-based international system.
Asia needs to be more active in “setting out rules and the enforcement”. To realize such a global role, Asia needs to promote “regional integration and cooperation.”
Small countries in the region are facing mounting challenges in adjusting their position to adapt to a fast-changing regional geo-political and geo-strategic environment, particularly mitigating the risks stemming from major powers’ competition and rivalry.
It is not in the long-term interest of a small country to choose side between major powers. A small country must be willing to build close ties with and benefit from all major powers.
Cambodia perceives the rising power of China is not a threat but an opportunity and a healthy and stable relation between China and the US is the foundation of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr. Hun Sen said, “Relations between the US and China are extremely important for the Asia-Pacific. Washington and Beijing are conscious of their complex interdependency and have been building mechanisms across their bilateral relationship to help manage their relations.
ASEAN is facing increasing regional geo-political complexity, emerging from both traditional and non-traditional security threats, rising nationalism and protectionism in some ASEAN member countries, and the downward economic pressures stemming from the economic slowdown in China and Europe.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the conflicts over the management of the Mekong River are the two main issues that threatening ASEAN’s unity and solidarity. To survive and remain relevant in shaping regional cooperation and institutions, ASEAN needs to collectively address these issues based on common interests and identity.
“ASEAN is presently the leading architecture of regional cooperation. It has to to strengthen itself to maintain its centrality role in regional cooperation and its role as a main facilitator in Asia,” Mr. Hun Sen.
Infrastructure is the foundation of regional development and integration. Cambodia prioritizes infrastructure in its national strategic development plan as well as its regional integration strategy.
Regional financial cooperation is critical to concretizing regional infrastructure connectivity. In this respect, Cambodia fully supports China’s initiatives on One Belt One Road and the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB). And priority should be given to the less developed region, the Mekong sub-region.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “the cooperation of Mekong River region could be the first step in realizing the concept of the Economic Belt and Silk Road. Therefore, this region deserves our consideration in promoting the implementation of this initiative.”
South China Sea Disputes
Cambodia has been consistent in its position on the South China Sea disputes.
As a non-claimant state, a responsible member of ASEAN, and a close friend of China, Cambodia has urged all claimants to use direct dialogue and consultation to build mutual trust and find common ground on managing or possibly resolving their differences and disputes.
ASEAN is not an international court. It does not have mandate to decide the borderline of the claimants. ASEAN has a role in facilitating dialogue and consultation, promoting a peaceful settlement of the disputes, and advocating the principles of the international laws, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“The adherence to a peaceful approach in line with principles of international laws is the solution that could ease tension and last to ensure peace, security and good cooperation,” stated Mr. Hun Sen.
“In this respect, I think all relevant parties should continue doing whatever can be done first, following the Early Harvest Approach, to build trust and confidence,” he added.
Cambodia’s place in the region
To be a relevant regional actor, a responsible member of ASEAN, and an advocate of an ASEAN-centric regional order, Cambodia needs to strengthen its leadership and institutional capacity, maintain high economic growth, and build a resilient society.
Cambodia should focus on five measures to develop the economy. First, developing a more productive and value-added economic structure. Second, investing more in rural infrastructure and agricultural development, linking urban and rural areas.
Third, linking trade liberalization with poverty reduction. Fourth, investing in education and skill development. Fifth, promoting financial access and inclusion.