India vows close cooperation with Kingdom as ASEAN chair

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Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn (left) and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. SUPPLIED

India has pledged to work closely with Cambodia, the 2022 chair of ASEAN, in addressing issues of common concerns including the Myanmar crisis.

The pledge was made during a telephone conversation between Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on January 10.

During the phone call, Sokhonn briefed Jaishankar on the results of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit last week to Myanmar where he met with General Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of the ruling State Administration Council (SAC), in a bid to resolve the ongoing crisis in the predominantly Buddhist country.

On other issues of common interests, Sokhonn said Cambodia is appreciative of India’s active contributions to the Mekong region and sincerely hopes that India will overcome the latest waves of Covid-19 due to the rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

“As a country neighbouring Myanmar, India is closely monitoring the situation there and values the important role played by Cambodia, especially as the chair of ASEAN this year. I took this opportunity to brief him on the encouraging outcomes of the working visit by [Hun Sen] to Myanmar last week,” Sokhonn said in a Facebook post after the phone call.

On bilateral relations, he said Cambodia and India are looking forward to celebrating their 70th anniversary of their establishment of diplomatic ties this year.

Following the conversation, Jaishankar tweeted: “We discussed Indian-ASEAN relations, Mekong-Ganges Cooperation and the situation in Myanmar, upon which I will be working closely with Cambodia in its capacity as ASEAN Chair.”

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said there have been changes in recent years in India’s foreign policy under the Narendra Modi administration, reorienting from a “Look East” to an “Act East” policy and a general revision of its autonomous strategic approach.

He said India’s strategic shift occurred in the context of the tense rivalry between China and the US in the Asia-Pacific region. India is required to balance between the two superpowers and the other countries of the region. This has led to India’s presence in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the US, Japan and Australia.

“India-Cambodia relations are strategically important for Cambodia because it is often seen by others as biased towards China or even as a pawn of China and that can bring its own dangers if the Kingdom relies on China too much or is too widely perceived that way.

“Therefore, Cambodia sees India as a strategic partner that can help balance its foreign policy without causing unnecessary offence to China and India-ASEAN relations and the Mekong-Ganges Cooperation are multilateral geopolitical tools that India wants to strengthen in order to expand its influence for the purposes of balancing its power in the region with China’s,” he said.