The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has announced it is appointing a Cambodian official, Kung Phoak, as its deputy secretary-general.
Based in the headquarters of the grouping, better known as ASEAN, in Jakarta, Phoak, 36, will be in charge of assisting the current secretary-general, Lim Jock Hoi.
In a statement, ASEAN said Phoak was chosen for “providing leadership” and to oversee projects that“focus on forging a common identity and building a caring and sharing society.”
Phoak founded the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank, in 2014, before joining the government as a foreign policy adviser and undersecretary of state.
He has written extensively on Cambodia’s domestic politics and geopolitical affairs in the Asia-Pacific.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said Phoak’s candidacy was vetted by the foreign ministry and granted final approval by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“It’s a really high value if we look at his qualifications and experience. Though he will be there on Cambodia’s behalf, he will represent the interests of the whole of ASEAN,” Siphan said.
Phoak is married to Maly Socheata, an undersecretary of state at the defense ministry.
ASEAN secretary-general’s are selected alphabetically, with Cambodia’s turn due in 2022.
Chheang Vannarith, a research associate with the Singapore-based ISEAS Ishak Yusuf Institute, said Phoak would face various challenges in the role, including dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and governments’ sensitivity over human rights issues.
“On socio-cultural aspects of ASEAN, it should be noted that many good policies have been written, but the implementation is limited. It’s because of the limited capability of ASEAN secretariat, which is short-staffed and under-financed and [suffers from a] lack of political will from member states for mechanisms to effectively accept input from civil society,” he said.