ASEAN From Cambodia’s Perspective: A Key Diplomatic Strategy For Its Regional And Global Integration – OpEd


This year marks the 25th anniversary of Cambodia joining the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), regional block, enabling Cambodia to engage with other countries in the region and beyond. From Cambodia’s perspective, ASEAN serves as an essential platform for bolstering its diplomatic ties as well as advancing regional and global integration. 

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cambodia’s ASEAN membership (30 April 1999-30 April 2024), President of the Cambodian Senate Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page, “Becoming an ASEAN member is one of Cambodia’s diplomatic successes in expanding its leverage and increasing its role in the region”. 

As a newcomer to the ASEAN family, Cambodia is dedicated to enhancing institutional reforms and fostering human resource development in order to reach the level of other old members. Consequently,Cambodia, once abandoned by the world during the dark period of genocide, has impressively risen from the scratch. Albeit its painful past, Cambodia has rapidly grown in human development, nurtured strong relationships with both internal members and external partners, and upheld the principle of ASEAN centrality and ASEAN-led mechanisms. 

Undoubtedly, Phnom Penh places great emphasis on the essential role of ASEAN in maintaining stability and peace in Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. Since its accession to ASEAN in 1999, Cambodia has assumed the role of ASEAN chair on three occasions—2002, 2012, and 2022, boosting regional cooperation, integration and solidarity for the sake of regional peace, stability and development.  

Evidently, during its chairmanship 2022, Cambodia managed to successfully host the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits and Related Summits despite facing numerous challenges such as the Ukraine war, Myanmar crisis, Korean Peninsula and Taiwan Strait tensions, as well as post Covid-19 recovery efforts and other existing issues under the support, cooperation and flexibility rendered by all ASEAN stakeholders. In the face of daunting circumstances, ASEAN together with its partners did not only prove the world that multilateralism has still remained the most effective approach for addressing global issues but also upheld the utmost importance of ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. 

In this sense, ASEAN mechanisms serve as a valuable platform for raising constructive dialogues, addressing shared concerns, resolving disputes, and promoting regional peace, security, stability as well as prosperity.  

Cambodia’s significant contributions to maintaining peace, stability and economic prosperity in ASEAN was also highly praised by the ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn in his congratulatory message to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet.

Phnom Penh views ASEAN as a crucial security shield, protecting its independence and sovereignty from foreign invasion and interference. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) emphasizes mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity. ASEAN also helps Cambodia to diversify its strategic and economic partners, enhancing its capacity to offset security and economic risks amid the rising geopolitical rivalry between the superpowers. Additionally, ASEAN is deemed as a driving force for regional integration, allowing Cambodia to expand its economic relations with countries in the region and beyond.

Since taking effect on 1 January 2022, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which includes 15 Asia-Pacific countries—10 ASEAN member states and their five trading partners, is a catalyst for long-term export growth and attracts foreign direct investment inflows to Cambodia. Last year, Cambodia exported 8.17 billion U.S. dollars worth of products to RCEP member countries, a 28.8% increase from the previous year. The top five export destinations under the mega-regional agreement were Vietnam, China, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. Cambodia’s total trade volume with RCEP members exceeded 29.4 billion dollars in 2023.

ASEAN functions as a bridge between Cambodia and countries inside and outside the region, facilitating increased political, economic, and cultural engagements. Through ASEAN’s promotion of cultural diversity and mutual understanding among member states, Cambodia’s rich heritage and traditions have gained greater recognition and appreciation.

Recently, Cambodian Foreign Minister SOK Chenda Sophea commended the ASEAN’s unity in diversity at the ASEAN Bazaar hosted by the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh. The event not only showcased high-quality ASEAN products but also bolstered public awareness and encouraged cultural exchange, aligning with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation’s Economic Diplomacy Strategy for 2024-2028.

Noticeably, ASEAN, albeit its 57-year inception, is still under scrutiny for its effectiveness in handling regional challenges and ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity. The fast-evolving global geopolitics have introduced a multitude of new challenges for ASEAN over the recent years. Despite the uncertainties coming along with such changes, ASEAN’s unity and collaborative spirit based on principles of equality, mutual respect, and mutual interests have allowed it to craft effective solutions to successfully resolving those complicated issues. 

In this regard, the bloc must maintain momentum in engaging constructive dialogues with ASEAN, as any challenging geopolitical landscape could erode its unity. In spite of its differences among member states, ASEAN remains instrumental in safeguarding peace, stability, and security in the region and beyond as well as a useful venue for exchanging ideas and bringing major powers to the table for proactively pursuing a “peaceful resolution” or at least for cultivating “mutual understanding”.

As per the motto, “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”, all ASEAN member states must work closely together to advance ASEAN’s community-building endeavors, particularly in promoting regional peace, security and development for the welfare of their peoples. 

Yen Samnang

Yen Samnang has a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Cambodia and a bachelor’s degrees in International Relations (with honors) from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia. Currently, he is a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute, a policy think tank based in Cambodia. He was a guest editor at the Cambodian Education Forum from 2020 to 2023.

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