OPINION: A Silent Observer of Cambodia’s Diplomacy, Amid COVID-19, Postures the Kingdom Leverage

Cambodia’s diplomacy is based on maintaining friendships with other nations, near and far, superpower or small nations. As a nation, we believe that making friends, playing several cards, building up global networks, are all about mutual interest and together contributing to peace and global prosperity.

For decades Cambodia’s foreign diplomacy has reflected and reaffirmed, over and over, that the kingdom of wonder loves peace, and promotes inclusive peaceful developments of all kinds for the well-being of our own people and our friends.

NO ENEMY

As said by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia does not and will not take anyone as an enemy, while adhering to national and international laws and order. In this respect, Cambodia welcomes countries from all over the world, regardless of their political platforms.

Cambodia’s political leaders’ value, and the country’s foreign policy has proved to the international community that she does not, and will not, interfere with any country’s domestic affairs, but will continue working for countries across the globe on a level playing field, equal footing for mutual interest.

That is to say that, Cambodia will speak with any leaders who respect Cambodia’s sovereignty, independence, and domestic affairs.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen accepted the call by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on April 8, 2020 in which both sides exchanged views on a wide range of issues. These included such as fighting COVID-19, Cambodia’s rescue of the U.S.-based Westerdam cruise ship, U.S. assistance to fight COVID-19, American support to narrow the gap between countries of the lower Mekong and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) role of Peace Corps Volunteers, among others.

That was followed by another successful Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 and the Special ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, South Korea) meeting on April 14, 2020 by video conference, attended by PM Hun Sen.

Later on April 23, 2020, Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn attended the video conference on the Special ASEAN-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meetings on COVID-19. Four days later, Deputy Prime Minister had a telephone conversation with Chinese State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on fighting COVID-19.

All of these meetings and telephone conversations Cambodia’s leaders managed well thanks to its friendly foreign policy and mature diplomacy following the country’s experiences from its hard time in the Cold War era till today’s globalisation.

I myself, as a son of Cambodia, was born in the wrong place at the wrong time when my country plunged into fighting in the 1970s. I went through those periods including at one time I lived as refugee in Vietnam, during that time the Khmer Rouge ruled the country from 1975-1979, with my parents returning to the homeland after the fall of Khmer Rouge in early 1979.

27-YEAR OBSERVING CAMBODIA’S DIPLOMATIC STRATEGY

I have observed Cambodia’s diplomacy for 27 years, since 1993, including my time with the United Nations, attended journalism training in the U.S.A., Japan, United Kingdom, and Thailand, worked as Reuters correspondent, and now as a civil servant with the Royal Government of Cambodia.

Working as a spokesman, I also received training from Chinese and U.K. experts. As of today, nothing made me happier than seeing Cambodia’s leaders, even during the global pandemic of Coronavirus/ COVID-19, continue to play its diplomatic cards quite well for the benefit of Cambodia and her people.

That recalls the terms that, the country’s foreign policy approach intends to serve the interests of the country in many ways, including military, trade, tourism, investment, social development, and others. While politics means who gets what, when, and how. Cambodia’s leadership did well in both domestic politics and its foreign policy.

That can be explained by the latest example, when the top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called Prime Minister Hun Sen on the April 8, 2020. The phone conversation was more than about the global disease of COVID-19, but from my point of view also as specialist, (Masters Degree in International Relations in Diplomacy), I saw it as the power of Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy that shaped that of a superpower to see Cambodia as emerging actor — based on a level playing field and equal footing—in bilateral and regional contexts but also at the global level.

Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Prak Sokhonn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, shared his views with ASEAN Foreign Ministers as stated on April 9, 2020 that, “we stand united with our ASEAN Member States in the fight against COVID-19.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen told the ASEAN Special Summit on COVID-19 on April 14, 2020 that, “We have to avoid racial discrimination and the attitude of the blame game, which can lead to a breakup of unity, while the rest of the world is trying to remain united in fighting against COVID-19”.

“In the spirit of humanitarian and international solidarity, Cambodia has allowed the Westerdam cruise ship,” he said referring to the cruise ship which carried more than 2,200 passengers, to dock on the morning of February 13, 2020.

When it came to the Special ASEAN-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19, on April 23, 2020, by videoconference, Prak Sokhonn also saw the key role of U.S.- ASEAN, and other stakeholders, such as World Health Organisation (WHO), among others in combating the pandemic.

“ASEAN and the U.S. should explore ways to strategically ensure the openness of regional and global supply chains, as well as the cross-border flow of vital goods, especially food and medical supplies,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

He stressed that, “Cambodia has tried to minimise the negative impacts of this pandemic on our economy, as well as prepare for the recovery phase by keeping factories running and thus preventing workers from losing their jobs.”

“To sustain that in the long run, support from the U.S., which is Cambodia’s major trading partner, is of utmost important,” said Prak Sokhonn.

The meeting was more than the issue of COVID-19 itself but beyond that, given the fact that they also touched upon regional issue pertaining to regional peace and security.

When it came to the telephone conversation with China’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the fight against COVID-19, on the April 27, 2020, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Prak Sokhonn, also did quite well.

He praised China’s success in preventing COVID-19 through the great self-sacrifice and holistic efforts of the Chinese government and people to prevent the spread of the disease, and treat the patients.

Prak Sokhonn thanked China for helping many countries in the world by sending doctors, medical equipment, medicines, and sharing experiences on treatment, which signify true international solidarity and responsibility.

Cambodia cannot deny her thankfulness to China for sending doctors and medical equipment, both civilian and military; supplying raw materials to ensure Cambodia’s factories continue to operate; taking care of Cambodian citizens and students in China, among others.

Both sides viewed the spirit of mutual assistance as real trustworthy and ironclad friends. At the same time, Cambodia also made it clear she will oppose any international politicising of Coronavirus/ COVID-19 or any fallacy/ blame gaming; but Cambodia instead continues to call for global efforts to fight the disease since it is not anyone’s problem alone.

As of April 29, 2020, total 122 cases of COVID-19, including foreigners, detected in Cambodia and 119 recovered and three are still being hospitalised.

Global deaths from the coronavirus/ COVID-19 has recorded more than 200,000 this week, while confirmed cases of the virus are expected to reach 3 million in coming days.

CAMBODIA’S LEVERAGE POSITION

In conclusion, I continue to see Cambodia used its diplomatic cards well when dealing at the bilateral, regional and global level. Now, superpowers looked to greater embracing Cambodia in the context of ASEAN thanks to the way the bloc works through consensus. While, the kingdom of wonder continues to enjoy mutual interest bilaterally.

As reiterated by China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, China will continue to support Cambodia to further its development.

With the Special ASEAN-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19, on the April 23, 2020, Prak Sokhonn said that, “to sustain that in the long run, support from the U.S., which is Cambodia’s major trading partner, is of utmost important.”

Cambodia also played well, as always, its diplomatic tool when dealing with the ten-country bloc of ASEAN namely the Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“Working swiftly and decisively with ASEAN dialogue partners and international organisations, as well as other multilateral and regional development banks to address not only this public health challenge but also deploy a robust, coherent, coordinated, and rapid financial package to tackle social and economic impacts,” Deputy Prime Minister, Prak Sokhonn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press