Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries are preparing for a major regional meeting, which will be held in Burma Aug. 10. Analysts say Cambodia should raise ongoing security issues that threaten regional economic integration at the Asean Regional Forum.
The South China Sea issue continues to rankle some Asean members, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, who have contested claims to areas of the sea with China.
Anger at a Chinese move to explore for offshore oil in a part of the sea also claimed by Vietnam led to violence against Chinese-speakers in Vietnam earlier this year.
Cambodia could also discuss regional migration issues, analysts say.
Many Cambodian workers seek work in Asean countries, especially Thailand and Malaysia, where they are subject to grave abuses.
Pou Sovachana, deputy director for the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, says Cambodia needs to make up for its Asean chairmanship in 2012, when it failed to bring about any kind of agreements on the South China Sea and was accused, in fact, of favoring China, a major donor.
“I think Cambodia should actively be involved in discussing the South China Sea issue,” he said. “Although Cambodia is not a claimant state, this is an opportunity for Cambodia to restore its image from the 2012 Asean Summit.”
As it moves toward greater economic integration, Asean is facing a number of security challenges, including human rights violations, backslides in democratic institutions and, in Thailand, major political instability. A coup there earlier this year put a junta in power and created a mass exodus of illegal Cambodian workers.
Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, said Cambodia should focus on immigration and “human security” in the upcoming meeting “to enhance regional cooperation and to protect the rights of migrant workers.”
Cambodia should also express its position on regional disputes, such as the South China Sea, and disputes over ownership of islands between China and Japan and between Japan and South Korea, to promote its status in the international community, he said.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan says Cambodia has a principle of non-interference that it will maintain.
“We always discuss among Asean members the prevention of interference from outsiders over the South China Sea issue,” he said. “Asean should continue to seek compromise and peaceful conflict resolution.”
Typically, Cambodia has focused on security issues like anti-terrorism, transnational crimes, food and water security and disaster management.
Sok Touch, head of Khemarak University and a political analyst, said Asean has no ability to manage regional disputes, because its members have been polarized by superpowers, the lack of dispute settlement mechanisms and strict adherence to principles of non-interference.