Ukraine is boosting its ties with Southeast Asian nations, signing a key foreign relations pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) later this week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba is expected to sign, in person, the so-called Instrument of Accession to the Treaty on Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and attend some ASEAN events.
TAC is a peace treaty established in 1976 by ASEAN’s founding members that enshrines fundamental principles such as mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national identity of treaty nations.
It is a measured diplomatic move by 10 ASEAN member states to agree on the accession of Ukraine, a non-Southeast Asian country, to the pact. The bloc will not be required to provide material or financial aid to the embattled country.
“[Acceding] to TAC does not incur any obligation for ASEAN to provide any assistance” to Ukraine, a senior Cambodian official told VOA. “The treaty is the code of conduct in implementing foreign relations, not an agreement to provide any assistance to anyone.”
As of August 2022, there are 49 signatories to the peace pact, including Russia, China, the United States and the European Union.
“I’m happy to say that we have invited [the] Ukraine foreign minister to sign the TAC in Phnom Penh in the next course of two weeks’ time on the sideline of the [ASEAN] meetings,” Cambodia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Keo Chhea said at an October 26 seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Cambodia chairs this year’s ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in Phnom Penh representing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the East Asia Summit.
In March, Cambodia formally condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and echoed ASEAN-backed calls for an immediate ceasefire. Regional news outlets reported last week that Cambodia's foreign ministry offered to host Russian-Ukrainian talks at the upcoming summit, but neither side has expressed willingness to engage in dialogue.
“Ukraine's presence at the East Asia Summit would demonstrate ASEAN's conflict resolution and peacekeeping leadership in the international community, as well as ASEAN's long-standing support for respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the U.S. State Department’s top official on Asia during the same event.
Cambodia and Ukraine had agreed to establish a diplomatic relationship after a call between Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on November 1. The two countries will appoint ambassadors to advance diplomatic ties.
Cambodia's prime minister also agreed to send demining teams, in cooperation with Japan, to help Ukraine remove land mines planted by Russian forces during the invasion. Cambodia became one of the world’s most mined countries during almost 30 years of civil war that ended in 1998. In exchange, Ukraine plans to increase grain exports to Cambodia amid the global food crisis.
ASEAN does not have a unified position on Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
Except for Singapore, ASEAN was largely muted in the early months after Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in late February.
While expressing concern over Russia’s war on Ukraine, ASEAN members that rely on Russian weapons have refrained from an outright condemnation of Putin.
Three ASEAN members (Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos) abstained from an October United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s attempts to annex additional regions of Ukraine.