Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to both ASEAN and the EU to do their utmost to build peace and stability in the region and beyond, while decrying today’s situation where world peace is being threatened by some states.

Hun Sen was speaking at the plenary session of the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit marking the 45th anniversary of the beginning of dialogue relations between the two blocs on December 14 in Brussels, Belgium, where he co-chaired the summit along with European Council President Charles Michel.

Hun Sen said the summit was being held at a time when multilateralism was under severe pressure and that the most concerning issue was that global peace has been threatened by some countries’ actions that openly violate internationally recognised laws, norms and principles, making an apparent reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its attempts to unilaterally annex Ukrainian territory.

“In my observations and in my personal experience with prolonged and tragic conflicts in Cambodia, I have never believed that we can achieve peace through war or through the threat of war. In this regard, I sincerely hope that we can find a peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and consultation as our common approach,” he said.

For the journey forward, he said he believes that ASEAN and the EU must work closely together to ensure an international order based on the rule of law, environmental protection, openness, transparency and mutual benefit.

“As two blocs that are based on the rule of law and accountability, ASEAN and the EU must do their utmost to protect and promote the UN Charter and international laws, norms and principles that are globally recognised as the foundation for building peace and stability and improving the quality of life and wellbeing of our people in our regions as well as around the world,” he said.

European Council’s Michel said at the opening of the summit that the EU and ASEAN are the world’s two most advanced regional integration organisations, and thus they understand each other very well and share the same values and the same spirit of cooperation.

He said both the EU and ASEAN know the challenges of transforming the vision of a political community anchored in common interests and common rules into concrete reality for their citizens.

“I strongly believe we can deepen our relationship in all these fields for the benefit of our people. And this deeper cooperation goes hand in hand with the EU’s strategy for greater cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region,” Michel said.

At the summit, EU and ASEAN leaders reaffirmed their partnership based on shared values and principles such as the rules-based international order, respect for territorial integrity and effective and sustainable multilateralism.

They also issued a joint statement reaffirming the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, in accordance with international laws, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“We reaffirm the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of all activities and avoid actions that could increase tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings, and miscalculation, as well as to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” said the joint statement.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post that respect for international law is the most fundamental principle for ensuring the peace and territorial integrity of all UN member states.

He said this was the primary problem with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s attempts to divide portions of the Ukrainian territory and annex them to Russia, as all such actions were in obvious violation of the UN Charter and international laws.

“Therefore, in order to ensure universal peace, we must respect the laws and the UN Charter to avoid having big or powerful countries invade weaker ones. For example, if we support Russia invading Ukraine, then there will be other future cases of countries invading other territories using that same logic. So, respecting international laws and the UN Charter is an important fundamental principle to ensure sustainability of the global order,” he said.

Seng Vanly, a professor of international relations and a regional political observer, said the EU is intensifying its overtures to ASEAN because it did not want to see ASEAN entirely depending on China or too heavily under its influence.

This is advantageous to ASEAN, he said, because the EU provides a more flexible space for ASEAN to operate diplomatically amid increasing competition between the US and China, who are also both keen to maintain influence with ASEAN.

“Even though the EU has a close strategic and security relationship with the US, it will not strictly follow the US blockade strategy against China, because China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner and plays an important role related to global challenges such as climate change,” he explained.

Separately, the EU side announced a €10 billion ($10.6B) investment in ASEAN for sustainability and transition to a green economy.

According to an EU press statement, the investments will focus on energy, transport, digitalisation, education and promoting trade and sustainable value chains while supporting ASEAN’s transition to a green economy, better access to essential services and economic opportunities and jobs.

“Today we celebrate 45 years of cooperation between two regions that believe in multilateralism and a rules-based world order,” said EU president Ursula von der Leyen.