The 23rd ASEAN Lecture was delivered by H.E. Prak Sokhonn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia. H.E. Sokhonn outlined the Kingdom of Cambodia’s commitment, under its Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022, in leading ASEAN under the theme of “ASEAN A.C.T.: Addressing Challenges Together” to foster harmony, peace and prosperity across the whole region. Cambodia seeks to draw on ASEAN’s spirit of “Togetherness” to consolidate efforts within ASEAN and with external partners in effectively addressing challenges and promoting shared goals for the benefit of the peoples of ASEAN and beyond.
ASEAN STUDIES CENTRE WEBINAR
Monday, 3 January 2022 – The ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held the 23rd ASEAN Lecture on “ASEAN A.C.T.: Addressing Challenges Together” on 3 January 2022 as part of its ASEAN Lecture Series. The Lecture was delivered by H.E. Prak Sokhonn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Lecture was opened and moderated by Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
In his Opening Remarks, Mr Choi Shing Kwok, ISEAS Director and CEO noted the unprecedented challenges faced by ASEAN these past two years. Apart from global challenges such as climate change and supply chain disruptions, as well as geopolitical competition in the region, the Myanmar crisis last year further tested ASEAN cohesion. In this context, he highlighted Cambodia’s critical role as the ASEAN Chair in strengthening ASEAN unity and centrality. This is reinforced by Cambodia’s objective this year of bolstering ASEAN’s spirit of “togetherness” to overcome regional challenges, through an action-oriented approach based on mutual respect, openness and trust. He noted expectations for Cambodia to continue existing ASEAN initiatives, including the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, the Post-2025 Vision and its roadmap, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its Implementation Plan, early operationalisation of the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
In his lecture, H.E. Prak Sokhonn emphasised the integral part ASEAN has played in Cambodia’s foreign policy since Cambodia’s admission. The Kingdom’s admittance to the bloc’s membership on 30 April 1999, was a big achievement for the Kingdom’s (then) foreign policy goal of regional integration. Since then, he stated that Cambodia has proven to be a proactive and constructive supporter of the ASEAN Community Building process.
He highlighted the chosen theme for Cambodia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN this year of “ASEAN A.C.T.: Addressing Challenges Together”. The spirit of “Togetherness” guides this theme and highlights the ASEAN spirit as a united family of ten members. It emphasises ASEAN centrality, unity and solidarity, as well as jointly acting for results to achieve common goals. H.E. Sokhonn emphasised that Cambodia stood by unity for cooperation and mutual interest, focusing on issues that bind ASEAN member states, rather than unity for confrontation.
H.E. Sokhonn elaborated on the four clusters of challenges facing the region, namely the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery from its impacts; the pressures arising from the geopolitical rivalries among superpowers and major powers; existing traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including the situation in Myanmar and the South China Sea, climate change and other global issues; and lastly, ASEAN’s internal and institutional challenges. Cambodia’s priorities for its 2022 Chairmanship build on past achievements and initiatives as ensuring continuity is key to the success of ASEAN Community Building. The main priorities, aligned to the ASEAN Community Pillars, are outlined below:
Priorities under the ASEAN Political-Security Community Pillar
1. Strengthening ASEAN Centrality in ASEAN-led architecture to maintain peace, security and prosperity: Emphasis will be placed on reinforcing multilateralism and multilateral processes through ASEAN-led mechanisms and taking concerted action that is open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based. External partners will be encouraged to support the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and engage with ASEAN in its four cooperation areas.
2. ASEAN Community’s Post 2025 Vision and Sustainable Development: H.E. Sokhonn shared that Cambodia will co-chair High-Level Task Force meetings to formulate elements of this Vision with Malaysia.
3. Promote regional contribution to global peace: Efforts will be taken to sustain ASEAN’s proactive contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations, incorporate the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda within ASEAN frameworks, as well as promote ASEAN’s visibility through the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Center in addressing the humanitarian aspects of the issues of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
4. Expediting Timor-Leste’s Membership in ASEAN: Cambodia remained committed to the inclusion of Timor Leste in the grouping.
5. Re-energising and Expanding Partnerships with External Partners: Efforts will be placed on maintaining regional peace and stability and enhancing ASEAN Community building efforts through enhancing relations with external partners on the basis of mutual interest and respect. H.E. Sokhonn looked forward to a fruitful year of cooperation and outcomes, including through the new partnership with the UK, the recently upgraded ASEAN-China and ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships, as well as Cambodia’s country coordinatorship of ASEAN-Russia relations (from 2022-2024).
6. Early conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct (COC): H.E. Sokhonn noted the urgent need to conclude the COC amidst rising tensions in the South China Sea. Cambodia will also be conducting activities to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) to promote confidence and trust and remind parties on the importance of the DOC.
7. Improving the situation in Myanmar: H.E. Sokhonn stated that the 5-Point Consensus and the ASEAN Charter would be the guiding principles in addressing the urgent crisis in Myanmar. H.E. Sokhonn stated that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar on 7-8 January 2022 would hopefully create conducive conditions for enabling inclusive dialogue and political trust, finding common ground on the process towards ending the violence, and expediting humanitarian relief and vaccination.
Priorities under the ASEAN Economic Community Pillar
1. Accelerating and further harmonising COVID-19 Recovery Efforts: Focus will be placed on implementing key ASEAN initiatives especially those outlined in the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement.
2. Strengthening competitiveness and regional integration: Efforts will be placed on optimising the utilisation of existing regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), effectively implementing the RCEP to boost regional economic recovery, and encouraging utilisation of the ASEAN Single Window to lower transaction costs, smoothen movement of goods and eliminate barriers to market access.
3. Promoting long-term growth and prosperity: Efforts will be placed to advance action on areas such as regional connectivity; people-to-people exchange; digital economy and e-commerce; science and technology; digitalisation, innovation and industrial transformation; Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and women entrepreneurship; and integration into global supply chains and further narrowing the development gap.
Priorities under the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Pillar
1. Enhancing ASEAN values, awareness and identity: Activities in the fields of education, youth, sport and cultural and tourism exchanges will be undertaken to pursue this goal.
2. Advancing sustainable development: Emphasis will be placed on fostering human capital growth in ASEAN and promoting cooperation and empowerment of ASEAN’s youth and women. Cambodia will also host the 2nd ASEAN Women Summit on Women Entrepreneurship in the fourth quarter of this year to promote the role of women in ASEAN post-COVID-19 economic recovery efforts.
3. Enhancing health, well-being and social protection for the peoples of ASEAN: These include strengthening social protection for vulnerable groups, including migrant workers, as well as enhancing ASEAN’s capacity to effectively respond to non-traditional security challenges such as natural disasters, pandemics and climate change.
4. Strengthening institutional capacity and human resources development: This would involve the adoption and use of digital technology and innovation.
In addition, H.E. Sokhonn also shared that the 2nd ASEAN Global Dialogue on Post-COVID-19 Recovery would be held in the fourth quarter of this year, focusing on the following discussion topics: (i) ASEAN as a post-pandemic climate-resilient community; (ii) universal health coverage, (iii) MSME’s digitalisation for sustainable and inclusive growth; and (iv) investing in human capital development for inclusive and sustainable growth.
H.E. Sokhonn closed by highlighting that success in achieving these priorities requires an inclusive approach at the domestic, national and regional levels, as well as taking into account perspectives from all relevant stakeholders, including the academic and think tank circles. He reiterated Cambodia’s hope that benefits from ASEAN’s community building efforts are equitably shared at all levels and sectors in the region, and especially in the interests of its people.
The Q&A discussion touched on relevant issues including the progress and likely conclusion of the negotiations on the ongoing COC, possible tensions between encouraging external partners to support ASEAN centrality and engaging in inclusive dialogue with Myanmar junta representatives, managing expectations of external partners vis-à-vis the Myanmar crisis, as well as managing future ASEAN+1 Summits.
Over 320 attendees from the policy, diplomatic corps, business and research communities in Singapore and the region participated in the webinar.