Russia remains an indispensable partner of Cambodia and ASEAN

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Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the ASEAN-Russia Summit on the sidelines of the 2021 ASEAN summit, held via a live video conference in Brunei. HANDOUT/ASEAN SUMMIT 2021/AFP

Cambodia-Russia relations remain stronger even though some differences exist over the Ukraine crisis. Even after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the two countries have continued to enjoy good relations and cooperation on all fronts. However, as the Ukraine crisis rages on, Russia is seen to have displeasure with Cambodia’s recent support for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolutions concerning Russia’s self-proclaimed special military operation in Ukraine – namely the UNGA Resolution deploring “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” in violation of the UN Charter and demanding that Russia “immediately cease its use of force” against the eastern European country, as well as the resolution deploring “the dire humanitarian consequences of the hostilities by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”.

Russia must have questioned Cambodia’s decision on the two resolutions, given its historical enduring relations and cooperation with Cambodia dating back to the Cold War period, when Cambodia was isolated by the West and when the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was the solely staunch supporter for the People’s Republic of Kampuchea’s (PRK) survival.

Frankly speaking, Cambodia has her own reason to sponsor and vote in favour of these two resolutions but, in the meantime, it also has her own reason not to vote for the suspension of Russia’s membership of the UN Human Right Council at the UNGA. These have been explicitly underlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who stated on March 28 that Cambodia is always against any invasion of another country.

“Russia is a friend of Cambodia and used to help Cambodia. However, the Kingdom does not support invasions. The Kingdom practises foreign policy based on the UN Charter and international laws. We strongly oppose the threats and the use of force against another country. We must respect the independence and sovereignty of other countries. As a friend, Russia will understand why Cambodia voted against the invasion of Ukraine. Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty were once invaded. So, Cambodia pledges to stand against any invasions.”

In this sense, Cambodia is widely understood that it upholds the principles against the separation of states and the threat or use of force against any country. Therefore, there is no doubt behind Cambodia’s support for the two resolutions. Cambodia decided to do so because of her own national security interest. The policy clearly states that Cambodia opposes secessionism and the use of force and/or threat to use force against a sovereign nation. As a small state, adhering to such a policy is a hedge for Cambodia ‘s national security. Thereby, Russia should not remain sceptical about Cambodia anymore.

However, to be frank, as a Cambodian, I still owe my personal gratitude to Russia for its heartfeltly tremendous support for the cause of Cambodia’s survival during the Cold War, when the country was liberated from year zero and, thereafter, suffered considerable economic embargo imposed by the West. Only Russia and its allies backed Cambodia then. Likewise, I think that Cambodia under the wise leadership of Prime Minster Hun Sen also still pays gratitude to Russia for such unique support.

The state and official visits to Moscow in the 1980s by then revered top revolutionaries including the late Samdech Chea Sim, current National Assembly president Heng Samrin and Prime minister Hun Sen – who liberated Cambodian people from the brutally horror regime of Democratic Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge and ever since have led the country and brought about comprehensive peace and social harmony nationwide and built Cambodia from scratch to the current stage of socio-economic development and growth – remain a very true testimony to the bond of friendship and relations between the two countries.

Building on this historical fact, Russia remains one of Cambodia’s close friends. Given this enduring relationship, it is still broadly seen that Cambodia and Russia, to the largest extent, remain indispensable partners – the partners for peace, security, stability and prosperity for all. We truly acknowledge that Russia used to render extensive support to Cambodia during its most difficult economic climate during the Cold War. Thereby, we will never ever forget such a very good deed and Cambodia still counts on Russia’s continued support for its socio-economic development.

Perhaps for this very reason, Cambodia has opposed the campaign by certain Western countries to exclude Russia from regional and international fora. As a matter of fact, the country voted in abstention to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council. It can be understood that from Cambodia’s political and diplomatic perspectives, excluding Russia is not a solution for peace and security, provided that Russia also has its own national security concern that has inevitably made it go to war against Ukraine. Moreover, it can also be understood that Cambodia may not go along with the idea of downgrading participation by Russia in the ASEAN-led mechanisms, considering the purposes and principles of ASEAN constructive role as a dynamicallydriving force in the evolving regional security architecture.

As the ASEAN chair and indeed current Country-Coordinator for ASEAN-Russia relations, Cambodia is generally seen to commit to continue working closely with other ASEAN member states and Russia to further bolster ASEAN-Russia Strategic Partnership to new heights for peace, security, stability and prosperity in the region. Cambodia highly appreciates and values Russia’s continued endeavour for ASEAN Community building process as exemplified by the fact that Cambodia successfully coordinated with Indonesia and Thailand – the two ASEAN member states who will host the G20 and APEC Summits respectively this year – to decisively reach trilateral consensus on official common position, expressing the processes of the ASEAN, G20 and APEC’s shared commonalities to forge closer cooperation with all participating countries to advance collective regional and international agenda and bring about peace, stability, sustainable and inclusive development and growth for all.

As stated in their Foreign Ministries’ Joint Press Release issued on May 4 this year, the three ASEAN member states – the chairs of ASEAN and Related Summits on November 11-13, the G20 Summit on November 15-16, and the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting on November 18-19 – have strongly determined to work with all partners and stakeholders to ensure a spirit of credible and relevant, inclusive cooperation with ASEAN at the centre to maintain peace and stability, security in the region and the world at large.

Another exemplification is the most recent success in convening the ASEAN-Russia Senior Officials’ Meeting under Cambodia’s coordinatorship and ASEAN chairmanship this year.

We should create such conducive environment for an inclusive political dialogue among all parties concerned by building trust and confidence between parties concerned through ASEAN-led mechanisms such as ARF and EAS. Likewise, through the current ASEAN chair – Cambodia – they can possibly meet on the sidelines of the upcoming AMM and related meetings in the Kingdom. Frankly speaking, Cambodia is part of the solution, not part of the conflict, and Russia is an indispensable partner of Cambodia as well as ASEAN.

Long live Cambodia-Russia long standing bond of friendship! Long live! ASEAN-Russia friendship!

Chun Sovannarith is former representative of the Tokyo News in Cambodia. The views expressed are solely his own