Foreign policy tack discussed as Ukraine conflict prolongs

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Top diplomat Prak Sokhonn (at left podium) opens a three-day annual conference of the foreign ministry on March 1. MFAIC

While the Russia-Ukraine armed conflict passed its first anniversary last week with no immediate signs of ending and instead growing more intense, Cambodia is analysing its impacts and the consequences of current geopolitical trends to prepare a foreign policy that serves its national interests.

The policy was analysed during an annual conference held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on March 1 to review its 2022 achievements and direction for 2023.

The first day of the March 1-3 conference touched on the impacts and consequence of geopolitical change on Cambodia, which are requiring the Kingdom to contemplate its strategies, policies and position in a complex and dangerous situation “for the sake of core national interests and for the people”.

Also on the agenda for discussion were topics like economic diplomacy and institutional reform with the focus on challenges and solutions.

Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn, in his opening remarks, said that in the last five years, the world has moved towards a complicated multi-polar international system, which has led to rapid change in international relations, a situation that he described as “unpredictable and dangerous”.

The changes can be seen within the contest for power and influence between the US and China, which is making it more difficult for smaller countries to revamp their strategies and positions in response to those changes in order to protect their individual interests.

“The US’ National Security Strategy put in place in October 2022 clearly shows its commitment to go against China and make that geopolitical contest their top priority,” he said.

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Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn delivers his opening remarks at the ministry’s three-day annual conference on March 1. MFAIC

He said that, at the same time, China has joined hands with Russia to build strategic and military ties in response to the increasing pressures and challenges from the West, which could lead to a situation identical to the prevailing conditions during the Cold War.

“China and Russia join hands to push themselves free of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), which is controlled by the west, to reduce the risks associated with being sanctioned and to create mutual cooperation and support on technology and internet space,” Sokhonn said.

“In the context in which the war in Ukraine is becoming more complicated and more dangerous, the role of and decisions made by China will be pivotal for the future of the war and the future of the world order,” he added.

Foreign ministry secretary of state Ouch Borith said that many things of note were occurring all over the globe, especially in Europe where the Ukraine war sparked by Russia’s invasion was on a scale beyond anyone’s expectations.

He said Cambodia had “correctly and firmly” stood behind its position to support the UN Charter, especially on the war in Ukraine, by co-sponsoring and voting in favour of all UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion. He noted that Cambodia’s position has improved its relations with the west and demonstrated that the Kingdom has a rules-based foreign policy.

Borith recalled Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2022, which he said was one of the most challenging chairmanships compared to others in recent years chaired by other members.

“Such a challenging situation required the leaders and officials at the foreign ministry to get instructions from Prime Minster [Hun Sen] frequently and we increased our efforts and resolve as well as our cleverness and vigilance to accomplish the implementation of our foreign policy, which is founded on upholding the rules-based international order,” he said.

Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said that during this dangerous situation for the world, Cambodia needs to call on all states, whether big or small, to respect the rules-based international order in the spirit of peace and multilateralism in order to solve this global security crisis.

He said China has a 12-point peace plan it has proposed and it could be use as a means to stop the war in Ukraine, reduce tensions and rebuild trust towards peaceful negotiations to end the war.