November 29, 2022
HONG KONG – Defense ministers agree at meeting to step up efforts for harmonized security
The recent meetings of ASEAN defense ministers and their dialogue partners have helped foster harmony in the region and strengthened collaboration between them, analysts say.
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, a Cambodian think tank, said a key outcome of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus meeting is the spirit of togetherness and cooperation.
“Confidence-building measures and preventive diplomacy have been strengthened,” Chheang said.
Cambodia was the venue for the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Retreat on Tuesday and the ADMM-Plus on Wednesday.
Under the theme “Solidarity for harmonized security”, the ADMMPlus brought together defense ministers from ASEAN and its dialogue partners including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, ASEAN-Plus defense ministers agreed to improve defense collaboration to strengthen solidarity for harmonized security.
The ministers agreed to “enhance the spirit of solidarity and cooperation within ASEAN and with the plus countries in order to realize a harmonized security to promote peace, stability, prosperity and resilience against current and emerging security challenges in the region”.
They also agreed to maintain the importance of putting in place practical confidence-building measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculations for maritime security to ensure a peaceful environment conducive to sustainable development and prosperity in the region.
The ASEAN bloc also gave permission to Canada, France and the United Kingdom to observe the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Groups, though it remains to be seen if a formal expansion of the ADMM-Plus is in the works, said Chang Jun Yan, a researcher at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, noting the agreement is also a key achievement.
During a meeting with Cambodia’s Minister of National Defense Tea Banh on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted that the country wishes to restore defense ties with Cambodia. Chheang said defense collaboration between Cambodia and the US is slowly improving but uncertainty remains.
“The United States wants to restore defense ties between the two countries, but transparency is paramount for the US side,” the Cambodian Defense Ministry said.
Chheang said such ties will depend on the US, whose strategy toward Cambodia is affected by the “China factor”.
Referring to the Ream Naval Base that is being upgraded with China’s help, Austin expressed US concern.
Frank talks needed
Heng Kimkong, a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodia Development Center, a think tank in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia and the US need to engage in frank dialogue to understand each other’s concerns and needs.
“The US should also understand the development needs of Cambodia and try to engage it in a more constructive manner.”
At a news conference after the ADMM-Plus meeting, Tea Banh stressed that Cambodia does not allow foreign troops on its territory and that China has no intention of stationing any military assets there. This is seen as answering warnings by US officials and media on a possible Chinese military presence there, even though the US has had multiple bases in the wider region.
EAC News, an English-language news channel in Cambodia, quoted Tea Banh as saying the upgrade of the Ream Naval Base with Chinese help is only to strengthen the capacity of the Cambodian Navy and protect the country’s maritime security so it can better fight crime along maritime boundaries.
Attending the ADMM-Plus meeting, the Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said China has always been committed to strengthening stability and providing positive energy to the world.
The Chinese military is a force for peace, he said, and China does not seek to meddle in the interests of other countries, but it stands rock firm in defending its own interests.
Chang of Nanyang Technological University said the meetings had made some progress but that the ADMM-Plus, among other things, is haunted by Myanmar and Russia and their crises, with no immediate solution in sight.
For the first time, the Myanmar military did not participate in the meeting as only a non-political representative was invited, he said.
Chang, a research fellow with the Military Studies Programme and the US Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at NTU, said ASEAN has to be united and strengthened to play an effective role in regional security.