Cambodia is holding the ASEAN chairmanship at a time of internal and institutional troubles in the bloc unprecedented in the last 23 years, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn.
Sokhon made the remarks on February 9 during a meeting with the Senate’s Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Media and Information.
While touching on Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship, he said: “Cambodia assumes ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship in 2022 in the context of our region being under pressure from various corners and at levels unprecedented since Cambodia became a member of the organisation almost 23 years ago.
“In addition to the challenges posed by the eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tensest competition since the end of the Cold War between the major powers is underway. In addition to the above-mentioned crises, ASEAN is facing its own internal issues,” Sokhonn was quoted in a press statement after the meeting.
“All of these challenges have put pressure on ASEAN – having an impact on efforts to build the ASEAN community and to maintain and strengthen ASEAN centrality, particularly in ASEAN-led mechanisms.
“They have affected ASEAN’s unity, solidarity, and resilience as well as endeavours geared towards the process of integration and broadening of external dialogue partners,” he added.
He said that as chair in 2022, Cambodia has chosen the theme “ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together” with the main idea being to highlight the importance of ASEAN’s family spirit as a united entity of 10 member countries who share a strong sense of togetherness and who act jointly to achieve common goals.
He said “togetherness” emphasises ASEAN centrality, unity and solidarity in addressing regional challenges and enhancing its contributions to regional and global peace and stability, as well as sustainable development.
“I would like to emphasise that we support unity for cooperation and mutual benefits, but we do not support unity for confrontation. We will strive to focus on the issues that unite us, rather than the issues that promote division,” he said.
Separately on February 9, Sokhonn also held a virtual meeting with Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, with both expressing their commitment to work together – and with ASEAN member states – to accelerate the implementation of the ASEAN five-point consensus (5PC) on Myanmar.
The two foreign ministers discussed the situation in Myanmar extensively, and in particular ASEAN efforts to support de-escalation of the crisis and attain a peaceful solution.
According to the ministry’s press statement, both sides agreed that the Myanmar crisis needs to be addressed with a step-by-step approach. ASEAN should continue to expedite progress of dialogue – which must be “Myanmar led and owned” – to end violence, prevent worsening humanitarian conditions and achieve a lasting, durable peace.
Sokhonn briefed Erywan of his plans for his first visit to Myanmar as the ASEAN special envoy . He intended to liaise with all parties concerned to find ways to ensure the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian relief to the people of Myanmar, who he said are in urgent need of help.
Erywan pledged his commitment to give the utmost support to Sokhonn in performing his role as the special envoy to Myanmar, the press release said.
Cambodia is to host the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on February 16-17 in Phnom Penh after it was delayed in January due to the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. It will be the first major meeting of the 10 member states during Cambodia’s chairmanship.
Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, told The Post on February 10 that it was a significant development towards a solution to the Myanmar crisis.
“Such an approach is the right choice for ASEAN unity and centrality. It will carry diplomatic weight with the military regime and should accelerate the settlement and reduce bloodshed and civilian casualties in Myanmar,” he said.
According to the ministry, Bruneian Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah wishes to pay a state visit to Cambodia ahead of the ASEAN Summit in November.
Sokhonn also accepted an invitation from Erywan to pay an official visit to Brunei at a mutually convenient time.