The escalating China-US full-scale competition and the lack of mutual strategic trust between the two major powers pose significant threat to world peace and stability.
Small states are compelled to adjust their foreign policy posture accordingly, based on their perception and interpretation of the fast-evolving global and regional geopolitics.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the Shangri-La last weekend that, “the fundamental problem between the US and China is a mutual lack of strategic trust. This bodes ill for any compromise or peaceful accommodation.”
Small states have limited capacity and resources to impact international order, but they are not entirely without agency.
“There are many opportunities for smaller countries to work together to deepen economic cooperation, strengthen regional integration, and build up multilateral institutions. This way, we can strengthen our influence as a group, and advance a collective position on issues that matter to us, be it trade, security or technology,” stated Mr. Lee.
Indeed, the world situation is becoming more complex, uncertain and unpredictable. Global power shift and transformation from the West to the East brings along with certain security risks. The centre of economic gravity and technological innovation is shifting to Asia- this trend not only defines the future of Asia but the whole world.
The bigger narrative of global power shift and major power rivalry relate to technological innovation, which has significant political and geopolitical implications. In addition, socio-economic inequality, social injustice, and identity politics are emerging complex structural issues that would make nation states become more polarised, fragile and instable.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the 25th International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo that the competition for power and influence, market, and technology between the old and the emerging superpower is an emerging challenge, as a multipolar world is in the making.
“We are deeply concerned about global peace, stability and security towards the evolution of multipolar world arising from competition for interest and the adjustment of balancing global power as well as other hostilities that are causing uncertainty and numbers of possible chaos to the normalization of social-economic development in Asia,” he added.
After enjoying high economic performance in the last two decades, Asia is now the centre of growth as well as an important driver for regional and global political stability.
Asia’s rapid economic development has contributed significantly to social progress, poverty reduction, income generating, and improving people’s well-being.
The drivers of growth are the promotion of an open and inclusive multilateral system, international trade promotion and facilitation, the expansion and deepening of regional integration and value chains, and building local-national-regional-global development nexus. These elements create an ecosystem for security and development.
Cambodia is against protectionism and unilateralism as these political ideologies hinder global progress and harm open multilateral system. Hence promoting and advancing open and inclusive multilateralism is one of the key foreign policy objectives.
“As a least developing country, Cambodia is deeply concerned about any unilateral decisions that defy against the principles and rules of international laws, as well as the avoidance of responsibility of any international treaties and agreements. Such actions have destabilized to some extent the state-to-state-relationship and raised tensions in the international community,” said Mr. Hun Sen.
Moving forward, Mr. Hun Sen proposed four key areas for consideration. Firstly, we need to reform international institutions based on core principles and values and build a new world order based on international laws, fairness, inclusiveness and justice. Secondly, we need to strengthen international cooperation and support globalization. Thirdly, we need to respect each other with regards to sovereignty, political ideology and governance. Fourthly, we need to maintain peace and stability- which is the precondition for development.
Although there are constraints for small states to effectively exercise their foreign policy and to impact big powers, at least Cambodia can contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity through the promotion and advancement of rules-based, open and inclusive multilateral system.
Under the slogan “reform at home and build friendship abroad”, Cambodia will continue to play an active and responsible role in the international system. Institutional reforms and socio-economic success at home defines Cambodia’s role abroad. We need to equip our people with security and safety belt for a roller-coaster ride.
Cambodia refuses to be a vassal or client state of any major power and wishes not to be bullied or coerced by others. It is crystal clear that Cambodia is thriving to diversify its strategic and economic partners in order to strengthen its national resilience. And hedging strategy has been cautiously implemented.
Foreign policy always starts from home. Domestic core determines the externalities.
We need to strengthen our national unity and social consensus, and be flexible and pragmatic to achieve our development vision to become a higher-middle-income country by 2030 and high-income country by 2050. This should not be projected or treated as a political slogan. We need to take concrete measures to realise the vision.
What does Cambodia need to do more? Building institutional and leadership capacity across sectors, at all levels.
Chheang Vannarith is President of the Asian Vision Institute.