Hun Sen and Jokowi Stressed ASEAN’s Sovereignty

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo as he passes on the ASEAN chairmanship to Indonesia at the closing ceremony of the 40th and 41st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits in Phnom Penh on November 13, 2022. (Photo by TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP)

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia, the outgoing 2022 ASEAN chair, has firmly reiterated the ASEAN’s standpoint and centrality of not being a proxy for any powers. The country said ASEAN is open to dialogue with any country that wants to be partners and provide novel initiatives for the prosperity of the bloc.

“ASEAN is not a proxy of anyone,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Nov. 13 at a press conference marking the closure of the 40th and 41st ASEAN summits and related summits. He thus endorsed Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo’s stance, who used the same words a few hours earlier, just before accepting the gavel symbolizing the passing of the ASEAN chairmanship.

“ASEAN does not care who is not on good terms with whom. We accept [everyone] equally and adhere to centrality,” Hun Sen added.

The outgoing ASEAN chair was answering a question about Ukraine which just became the 50th member of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).

It raised concerns about the potential damages the signature of the treaty could cause to the relationship between Russia and ASEAN. Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022, might be unhappy with the bloc’s acceptance of Ukraine.

Hun Sen said that ASEAN does not serve only Ukraine or Russia but welcomes any power that intends to build ties and cooperation with the region. Thus, he said, “Russia has no reason to be unhappy with the decision.” Russia has signed the TAC in 2004.

In addition to Ukraine, ASEAN has also accepted six other countries to join the TAC in 2022, including Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The prime minister also clarified the ASEAN independence while the rivalry between China and the United States increases. He clarified the bloc does not have to choose one superpower over another as ASEAN and Cambodia can perform their duty independently.

Hun Sen underlined the presence of many prominent leaders during the 2022 ASEAN summits, among which Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and U.S. President Joe Biden.

The concern was raised by a journalist who attended the press conference, after the U.S. has become the third ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partner, while China elevated its relations with the regional bloc to this rank in 2021.

“This is the independence of ASEAN,” the PM said. “We won’t be biased toward China or the USA.”

Cambodia supports humanitarian aid, not military

On Nov. 1, during a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Cambodia said that it would send demining experts to the war-torn country to help with the necessary demining effort, while the war in Ukraine will enter its tenth month.

Hun Sen said Cambodia never had the intention to send weapons or ammunition to Ukraine, or any other country, as he never supported the war as the solution to the conflict, citing Cambodia’s experience with decades-long wars affecting people’s lives and infrastructures.

“We focus on humanitarian aid,” he said, adding that Cambodia is still getting rid of landmines in various regions of the country, though the war ended in 1998.

During the press conference, Hun Sen added that ASEAN still maintains a calm approach to Myanmar’s tense situation, continuing to provide humanitarian aid and peaceful negotiation per the Five-Point Consensus which remains the bloc’s priority in resolving the ongoing crisis.

A total of 70 documents and declarations were adopted during the 40th and 41st ASEAN summits, and the group’s leaders adopted a number of cooperation frameworks with dialogue partners.

Timor-Leste gained an in-principle agreement to become the 11th member of ASEAN, and received observer status allowing its upcoming participation in all meetings held by the group.

Related Articles