By Soy Sophea
April 29, 2009 marks the 10th Anniversary of Cambodia’s membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Cambodia Weekly commemorates this important anniversary with an exclusive interview with His Excellency Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Q: Could you describe the benefits Cambodia has received over the past decade in being an ASEAN member nation?
A: The past 10 years have been a period of remarkable and overwhelmingly positive change, not only for Cambodia but also for the ASEAN group as a whole.
It is certain that both sides have benefited from 10 years of Cambodian membership. Some of the benefits are clear for all to see, some of them not so immediately self evident. Take the matter of security for example. Cambodia now plays a regional role in ensuring the territorial integrity of the grouping and Her voice is heard as it contributes to the creation of consensus amongst the 27 participating member states.
Cambodia’s position at the ASEAN table placed the nation in Her rightful role and enabled dialogue to occur between archetypes of regional leadership and development partners. This results in progressive, rational and sustainable reform for all members. He added that membership of ASEAN amplified Cambodia’s diplomatic voice across the globe, as the framework enabled engagement with countries that are part of ASEAN and countries in the wider world that may have no consular representation in Cambodia but who are trade partners with ASEAN nations. Having established a high profile corner for ourselves in ASEAN, we are now able to interact with a world of friendly nations including the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and the EU for example.
In terms of the economy, we will be able to take advantage of the Free Trade Area that ASEAN has been negotiating with other ASEAN partners. The vast markets of China and India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Newzerland and of course with the European Union (EU) – all of these nations are open to Cambodian exports. Other areas of benefit include promotion of investment opportunities and tourism. I will continue to work closely with our friends and expand these areas of cooperation.
Turning to the subject of social and human resource development, Dr. Kao said that We have been working with a number of very useful themes. This gives us access to a fund supported by the Asian Economic Powerhouses and all ASEAN members have benefited from this fund in one way or another. I think of ASEAN as an open door that leads to a world of exciting possibilities.
That Cambodia is viewed as a vital member of this grouping is also illustrated by our work in creating the ASEAN Charter. Given my presence at the Charter’s inception, the entire grouping progresses according to directives created with a distinct Cambodian imprint.
Q: Can you explain ASEAN policy with regard to reducing the gaps between mature ASEAN members and newer arrivals such as Laos PDR, Vietnam and Myanmar – not to mention Cambodia?
A: We have been aware of these concerns for some time now and in a grouping of equals, we do not want to see such gaps. We have responded with the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI). This mechanism allows older ASEAN members and their dialogue partners to pool resources and then distribute them across a diverse range of programs and projects, all of them created to bridge the gap between the old and the new.
The integration ASEAN is a priority for us and we will continue in these efforts with other member nations and partners until we have created a group of proud, independent nations unified by economic parity and shared financial objectives.
Q: Can you say -how long will it take to minimize the gap?
A: That is hard to say, but we are working towards a date of 2015, by which time we hope to have reduced the gaps to the point of insignificance. We have already created a blueprint to help s achieve this goal. I will not go into details now, as they would fill many volumes. However, I remain convinced that the gaps will have ceased to exist, half way through the next decade.
Q: Cambodia is to host all ASEAN meetings and conferences throughout 2012, following Vietnam in 2010 and Brunei in 2011. Can you confirm that Cambodia will host as many meetings as Vietnam and Brunei? Cambodia Hosted the ASEAN Summit in November 2002. How has the situation changed between then and now?
A: First, ASEAN is governed by a Charter and has been since before December 15, 2008. Once the Charter has had time to settle in it will usher the member states into a rule-based environment with a clearly defined legal personality. Most importantly, under the ASEAN Charter, Cambodia has to operate under a Single ASEAN Chairmanship. This means that by 2012, assuming everything goes according to schedule, Myanmar will formalize her membership and thus her right to assume the Chair for a one-year period. Cambodia will assume the ASEAN Chair, hosting all key ASEAN meetings including ASEAN Summits, meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives and ASEAN Council Minister’s Meetings. Now, the calendar starts in July, through to the following July. Cambodia will enjoy the benefit of conducting these meetings under the ASEAN Charter – a great change for the better in my opinion. Secondly, Cambodia has gained a wealth of experience since 2002 and this will be amply demonstrated in our conduct throughout 2012.
We feel full confidence in our ability to host these meetings and Cambodia makes a perfect venue for them. Given the outstanding leadership skills displayed by our Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister, Hor Namhong, in his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Cambodia will be perfectly positioned to assume the revolving chairmanship.
Q: Do you expect all Heads of State and Government to attend?
A: When we assume the Chair, we do expect full attendance at the Summit Meetings, as well as the ASEAN Plus 3 Submits, with additional delegates from Japan, China, South Korea and India. It will be a lot of work, but it will be good experience both for us and for the other members. I am looking forward to the challenge; and it will present countless opportunities for us to enhance relations with all our international friends within the scope of the Charter. I repeat, I am looking forward to a great year of diplomatic successes for Cambodia.
Q: Do you expect the US president to attend the Submit in 2012?
A: Well, that is a good question. Actually, there is no precedent for inviting U.S. representatives. In the past, we have discussed the possibility of convening a meeting between ASEAN and the U.S. but there has been no movement on this front yet. I do know that the U.S. Secretary of state has attended the ASEAN Regional Forum in the past and I would not be surprised to see the U.S. Secretary of State in Cambodia in 2012 – all things are possible. Right now, the U.S. is interested in extending trade links in South East Asia and this is one of the most important steps forward in terms of moving a particular country towards full cooperation with the ASEAN Summit.
Q: This is my final question Your Excellency and I thank you for your Patience. As you are acutely aware, Cambodia and Thailand have encountered disputes over border demarcations. What is ASEAN’s position in relation to this?
A: Well, It is a bilateral issue and both countries have agreed to resolve the matter sing a bilateral framework. Last year, when I was in Singapore, the chair country of ASEAN, we explored the possibility of engaging ASEAN as a moderator in this issue. I think the priority now must be to let the two parties work together within the framework of the ASEAN Charter and its dedicated dispute settlement mechanism. Right now, legal experts from both parties are working towards a resolution based firmly on the Rule of Law.