Prime Minister Hun Sen used the opening of the 9th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+) – which includes the world’s two superpowers China and the US – to urge open, frank and inclusive dialogue and communication by all participants.

He asked participating nations to strengthen their security and defence cooperation based on people-centred principles of trust, noting that ASEAN has put security and the wellbeing of its people at the centre of its security policies.

“In order to achieve harmonised security in the region, we need to promote cooperative security. Due to the rising complexity and multi-dimensionality of transboundary security issues and threats, we must collaborate closely to address these challenges,” he said at the November 23 opening of the ADMM+ in Siem Reap province.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for all nations to pay more attention to health security. Climate security is another pressing issue that governments need to inject more effort and resources into, while civil-military cooperation on security is also becoming increasingly crucial, he added.

The meeting was attended by Chinese Minister of Defence General Wei Fenghe and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. Hun Sen also urged the ADMM+ leaders to work together to address traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

“Open, inclusive dialogue is the best way to de-escalate tensions, prevent future conflicts and build a ‘harmonised security’ based on mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual interests,” he said.

He added that uncertainty, rapid change, complexity and volatility of global security and the economic environment are increasing.

The rise of geopolitical rivalries and tensions, ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, food and energy crises, global economic downturn and wars have formed a “perfect storm”.

“Climate change impacts are also becoming more severe, both in scale and frequency. The world is obviously at a critical stage, as multiple complex crises pose unprecedented threats to the very foundations of peace, stability and progress of many countries around the world. Indeed, the decline of multilateralism harms us all,” he said.

The premier said he believes that ADMM+ plays an increasingly critical role in promoting mutual understanding through candid exchanges of views based on mutual respect, practical cooperation, and capacity building for peace and prosperity.

He spoke of Cambodia’s firm and consistent advocacy of open and inclusive multilateralism, strengthened ASEAN-led mechanisms or ASEAN-driven regional order, and adherence to international laws, particularly the UN Charter.

Cambodian defence minister Tea Banh hands over ASEAN Defence Ministers’ chairmanship to Indonesia on November 23. TEA BANH VIA FB

On November 22, Austin and Wei met face-to-face in Siem Reap, where they discussed defence ties between the US and China, as well as regional and global security issues. Austin stressed the need to manage competition responsibly and maintain open relations.

Thong Meng David, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said Hun Sen’s remarks were an expression of Cambodia’s concern over the geopolitical competition that the US and China are engaging in regionally.

He said the establishment of security sub-committees such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the most recent trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and US (AUKUS) had raised concerns among ASEAN as a whole about the rise of regional arms competition and the proliferation of the nuclear threat.

He said Cambodia should congratulate China and the US for meeting, suggesting that it shows they are paying close attention to global security and are prepared to facilitate the confrontation into cooperation for the common good and the region.

“The face-to-face dialogue between the two top defence officials will make it easier for the two countries to build trust, negotiate and hold constructive and sustainable discussions. This will promote prosperity and stability in the region, which has the US and China at its core.

“Both Cambodia and the other ASEAN member states want to see these two countries work together to develop and maintain regional security, rather than showing their military muscles,” he told The Post.