Oz supports Kingdom as ASEAN chair

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) meets with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Monday. AKP

Australia is committed to supporting the success of Cambodia as ASEAN chair in 2022, while Prime Minister Hun Sen hoped Canberra will further assist ASEAN in its fight against Covid-19.

The pledge of support was made during an in-person meeting between Hun Sen and Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne on November 8.

Payne visited Cambodia over November 7-8 to further strengthen relations between the two countries for mutual benefit.

In a Facebook post after the meeting, Hun Sen said Payne congratulated Cambodia for hosting the ASEAN Summit next year and welcomed greater cooperation between ASEAN and Australia.

“Australia will support Cambodia to help make its chairmanship of ASEAN a success,” he quoted Payne as saying. “The Australian government will provide Cambodia with 3,250,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines and we can expect one million of those doses to be delivered to Cambodia before the end of this year.”

“I hope that Australia will join the ASEAN member countries in their fight against Covid-19 to reconnect ASEAN [regionally and globally] after the pandemic is over,” he wrote.

Hun Sen brushed off critics who said Payne’s visit to Cambodia was to put pressure on the Cambodian government.

“Visiting Cambodia doesn’t oppress Cambodia. As far as I’m concerned, any foreign officials who want to come to Cambodia to oppress the Cambodian government don’t need to bother coming to the Kingdom. Cambodia retains the right to simply deny them a visa,” Hun Sen said.

He made the statement at the inauguration of the new headquarters for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction on November 8, just prior to his scheduled meeting with Payne.

After meeting with Payne, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn said the positions held in common by the two countries remain unchanged.

He said both countries want to ensure that the region is peaceful, stable and prosperous and he that Cambodia always appreciates Australia’s engagement and the support it extends to the Kingdom and to ASEAN.

“International solidarity is fundamental to attaining these objectives, especially amid our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I sincerely hope that Senator Payne and her delegation enjoyed our luncheon today – a special touch to show how Cambodia is actively pursuing ‘culinary diplomacy’ on the world stage,” Sokhonn said.

On November 8, Payne – as part of her dual-role as Australia’s Minister for Women – paid a visit to a crisis shelter for women survivors of violence managed by the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre (CWCC) in Phnom Penh which is supported by the Australia-Cambodia Cooperation for Equitable Sustainable Services (ACCESS) programme.

Payne announced that Australia would continue funding the ACCESS programme for an additional two years with A$10 million (US$7.4 million) in funding, bringing the total investment to A$25 million over the five-year period from 2018 to 2023, according to a press release from the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on November 8.

Payne also announced Australia’s support for a women’s economic empowerment pilot initiative targeting women survivors of violence, which will be implemented in partnership with the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, according to the press release.

“Promoting gender equality and addressing violence against women is a priority for both Australia and Cambodia,” she said in a tweet on November 8.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Payne’s visit to Cambodia was important for enhancing relations and increasing cooperation between the two countries.

He said that traditionally the relationship between the two countries has always been very good and mutually beneficial with a solid basis for dialogue and understanding as well as diplomatic support on regional and international issues.

“The visit is a good move [by Australia] because Cambodia will chair ASEAN in 2022. Therefore, regional and international issues should be discussed comprehensively in order to maximize Australia’s potential contributions towards solving these problems through bilateral and multilateral frameworks under ASEAN and other international mechanisms,” Phea said.

Phea said the visit was also a good example of Cambodia’s pursuit of a multifaceted foreign policy where Cambodia not only has close relations with China, but also has good relations with Australia and other key countries to achieve mutual benefits and to ensure respect by everyone for Cambodia’s independence.

In addition to her trip to Cambodia, Payne is visiting Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia on this diplomatic tour to boost Australia’s relations with these key ASEAN partners, as well as strengthen cooperation in order to bring about an economic recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

The visit follows the historic high-level agreement last month to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and Australia – underscoring Australia’s commitment to ASEAN centrality and Australian support for ASEAN’s growing role as a regional power in the Indo-Pacific.