December 14, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his doubts that the Myanmar crisis would be resolved any time soon and ruled out a third trip there by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn in his capacity as the ASEAN chair’s special envoy.
He made the remarks on December 12 while meeting with over 2,000 members of the Cambodian diaspora in Europe who came to see him in Brussels, Belgium, where he is slated to co-chair the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit. The December 14 event marks the 45 anniversary of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Partnership.
“I predict that Myanmar takes at least five more years to sort out. If anyone thinks they have a good solution to that problem, they should go try solving it. I’m almost done with my term so the ASEAN chair’s special envoy isn’t going back to Myanmar,” he said.
He added that when Cambodia chaired ASEAN this year, it was already a very complicated period, but at that same time there were also many things Cambodia had achieved which demonstrated its confidence, capacity and responsibility as the chair of ASEAN.
“When we went to the ASEAN-US summit, I addressed the leaders of ASEAN and the president of the US. I said that the ASEAN chair this year was like a hot potato or a hot stone,” he said. “But I laughed a bit and said that pretty soon I will toss this hot stone over to the president of Indonesia.”
Hun Sen said that unlike the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the disagreements over the South China Sea were not nearly as severe, because there are ongoing negotiations working towards establishing the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC).
One of the items on Hun Sen’s agenda while in Europe is attending an international conference in support of the Ukrainian people. Earlier this year at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Ukraine signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), raising the total number of signatories to 50 countries.
On the Myanmar crisis, Hun Sen told outgoing Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Mikami Masahiro on December 8 that Cambodia had strived to help the country return to normalcy, but now it would be Indonesia’s turn to take the lead on the issue in 2023.
In November, Sokhonn released a statement supporting the mass release of prisoners by Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC), saying it was an important move and the right thing to do to create an atmosphere conducive for dialogue among the conflicting parties. Around that time, the special envoy announced that he would make a third trip to Myanmar to renew efforts to help the country return to the path of democracy, but now that plan has apparently been scrapped.
Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said the Myanmar issue remains very complicated and involves many factors and interference by major powers from outside.
He added that despite Hun Sen and Sokhonn having made serious efforts to try and mediate the Myanmar situation in the capacity of Cambodia as chair of ASEAN, the SAC seemed to have ignored their commitments to peace talks and often undertook provocative actions such as executions or attacks on civilians.
“Cambodia will still continue to work with ASEAN under the troika mechanisms to alleviate the Myanmar situation in support of Indonesia as the new chair of ASEAN. Cambodia can also continue to call for peace and help build confidence among all relevant parties to negotiate to end the political crisis and hold a democratic election,” he said.