January 25, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen maintained that his recent Myanmar visit managed to “plant trees, not cut them down”, in an apparent response to critics including Malaysia’s top diplomat.
Hun Sen made the remarks during a 35-minute phone call on January 21 with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo about working together to move ASEAN forwards and exploring ways to address the prolonged Myanmar crisis.
The call on January 21 was the second between Hun Sen and Jokowi in January since Cambodia became the chair of ASEAN. Both calls touched on the Myanmar crisis.
In a Facebook post after the call, Hun Sen likened critics of his trip to “people who think a tree planted a day or two ago will bear fruit for them”.
The premier expressed his displeasure with critics and singled out Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah over his recent comments that Cambodia had not consulted with other ASEAN member states before the Myanmar trip.
During the meeting with Jokowi, Hun Sen requested that Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi relay a message to her Malaysian counterpart that his remarks “weren’t the right way to do things within the ASEAN framework”.
“Please do not allow [Saifuddin] to act with such insolence by making those kinds of inappropriate remarks to ASEAN’s leaders – to the ASEAN chair, no less. That’s not suitable language for diplomats,” he said.
Hun Sen continued that despite its short duration, the visit had directly and indirectly achieved some tangible results, listing “a halt to violence” and “an extended ceasefire” as examples.
According to the Facebook post, Jokowi acknowledged the merit of Hun Sen’s initiatives but stressed that the concerted implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus on Myanmar remains a top priority.
Both leaders ended the call vowing to push forward to find a solution to the Myanmar crisis at the upcoming ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
The Indonesian foreign ministry on January 22 also issued a similar statement regarding the Myanmar issue. It said Indonesian leaders are continuing to emphasise the strong need to follow the consensus.
“As long as there is no significant progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, it is imperative for ASEAN to maintain its decision that Myanmar shall be represented only at the non-political level at any ASEAN meetings,” the statement said.
Jokowi said the Myanmar military must provide immediate access for the ASEAN chair’s special envoy to communicate with all concerned parties in the country including opponents as such communication is essential to pave the way for an inclusive national dialogue.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation also issued a press statement on the meeting covering the various topics that both leaders discussed.
According to the statement, their conversation also touched on the Rohingya issue. Hun Sen said the repatriation of the Rohingya ethnic from Bangladesh to Myanmar should be moved forward rapidly but with safety and dignity.
The Rohingya refugee issue was also discussed last week in a telephone conversation between foreign minister Prak Sokhonn and his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen.
Heng Kimkong, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodia Development Centre, told The Post that while it is important for Cambodia as ASEAN chair to start working on addressing the Myanmar crisis, the Kingdom also needs to carefully consider the voices and stances of the other ASEAN member states regarding the conflict there.
“Cambodia needs to do more consultations and be more proactive in involving the other member states in addressing the Myanmar issue to avoid criticism and backlash,” he said. “This should not become Cambodia’s burden alone to deal with.”
Myanmar has been embroiled in unrest since February 1, 2021, when the military dissolved all branches of the civilian-led government after alleging irregularities in the general election that took place in late 2020 – a move widely condemned as a “coup” by the international community.
They then declared a one-year state of emergency and formed the State Administrative Council (SAC) as the principal ruling body of the country, with defence services commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at its helm.
Some of the top leaders of the former civilian government such as Aung San Suu Kyi have been imprisoned, tried on various charges related to corruption and given lengthy prison terms.