February 25, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Cambodia urged the EU and its partners to boost cooperation with Southeast Asian countries to help them enlarge their strategic autonomy through efforts based on mutual respect and trust in order to maintain peace and stability.
“The EU and European partners, including France, need to present an alternative option to help Southeast Asian countries expand their strategic autonomy,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn said.
Sokhonn was speaking at the roundtable discussion at the Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific on February 22 in the French capital Paris.
“Moreover, they should focus on practical areas of cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect, understanding, trust and interest,” he was quoted as saying in the foreign ministry’s press release.
Sokhonn said ASEAN and the EU are natural partners to promote an open, inclusive, rules-based Indo-Pacific. Their partnership will shape the future of the Indo-Pacific in which peace, prosperity and progress can be ensured.
“To that effect, ASEAN is aiming to create a concept paper to operationalise the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), and we seek your support to carry out practical cooperation under this framework,” he added.
Sokhonn noted that people are living in the most uncertain times since the end of the Cold War as the international order has undergone fundamental transformations as the result of a balance of power shift, a sharpened strategic rivalry between major powers and the decline of multilateralism.
Even worse, he said, some security agreements have been made by the superpowers to counter one another, bearing a resemblance to the Cold War era. These strategic and security recalibrations have further complicated existing traditional security challenges.
Against this backdrop, ASEAN has tried to maintain a strategic balance through the promotion of its internal unity and the maintaining of its centrality in the evolving regional security architecture and in the Indo-Pacific in particular.
“It is quite obvious that the over-politicisation and over-securitisation of the Indo-Pacific have led to the proliferation of different exclusive security-oriented regional architectures. ASEAN wishes to see the Southeast Asia region as a zone of peace and stability by further strengthening ASEAN Centrality and Unity.
“We express our concern that the establishment of AUKUS could be the starting point that triggers a regional arms race, fuels confrontation and increases regional tensions,” Sokhonn said, referring to the trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and US.
ASEAN has embraced all these initiatives as long as they contribute to regional peace, stability and prosperity through cooperation and not confrontation.
“We have come up with our own ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, with the clear intention to provide a supportive platform to allow the co-existence for these complementary visions of the Indo-Pacific.
“Our focus is on practical areas of cooperation and on issues that bind us rather than issues to divide us. ASEAN does not want to have to choose which major powers to side with,” he said.
At the forum, which brought together foreign ministers from the EU member states and over 30 countries in the Indo-Pacific region, Sokhonn said both the EU and ASEAN see multilateralism as an instrument for peace and development in light of the fast-changing global landscape, including geopolitical rivalries and other complex regional hotspots, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.
Sokhonn underlined that greater economic interdependence will reduce the risks of conflicts, and as such countries need to deepen further intra- and inter-regional economic cooperation.
He encouraged that more efforts be made to tap the benefits from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and concrete linkage between the Master Plan of ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and the Global Gateway of the EU.