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Cambodia’s parliamentary diplomacy gains traction

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (C, front) poses for photos with lawmakers-elect at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Sept. 5, 2018. (Xinhua/Sovannara)

Parliamentary diplomacy is relatively new to Cambodia and recently it has gained traction. Under the strategic vision of “reforming at home and making friends abroad based on independence”, Cambodia’s foreign policy is set to be more robust, smart and flexible.

The main objectives of parliamentary diplomacy are to promote mutual understanding through dialogues, share experiences and expertise, build trust, develop innovative ideas to address global issues, and strengthen democratic legitimacy of inter-governmental organisations.

The Cambodian Parliament is a member of several important multilateral fora, such as the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP), the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF), the Asia Parliamentary Assembly (APA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie.

Since early this year, the Cambodian parliament has been enhancing its parliamentary diplomacy through actively and substantively participating in and contributing to various multilateral parliamentary forums.

For instance, from 14 to 17 January this year, the National Assembly hosted the 27th Annual Meeting of the APPF under the theme of “Strengthening parliamentary partnership for peace, security and sustainable development”.

In the Royal Message at the forum, His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni stated that, “multilateralism and the rules-based international system are under threat due to rising unilateralism, protectionism, extremism, nationalism and populism in different parts of the world. We need to be resilient and work together to promote an open, inclusive and rules-based multilateral system.”

Next year, the Cambodia will host ASEP, a side event of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which consist of 51 partner countries from Asia and Europe and two partner institutions (the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat). It will be the main international event of the year for Cambodia.

This week, the President of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, led a high-level delegation to attend the 40th General Assembly of AIPA in Bangkok. In October, another high-level delegation from the Cambodian parliament will attend the 141st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). This year marks 130th anniversary of IPU.

At the 40th AIPA General Assembly, Samdech Heng Samrin stressed that AIPA must strengthen unity and solidarity as well as enhance a rules-based multilateral system. Mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual interest, and non-interference are the foundations of sustainable peace.

He added that peace and stability are the prerequisites for development, and inclusive and just development is the foundation of peace and stability. Peace and development are intertwined.

As multilateralism is under assaults by the rising protectionism and unilateralism, Cambodia is concerned that its national interests will be hurt as its economy is increasingly connected with the outside world.

The violation of international laws, particularly by some major powers, is a threat to international peace and stability. Therefore, advancing a rules-based international order has become of the key foreign policy objectives of the Kingdom.

The Cambodian parliament has taken a bold step in promoting a more inclusive, open, and effective multilateral system based on the respect of international laws, independence and sovereignty.

Cambodia’s international image has been recently damaged as it is portrayed as the “client state” of China. The US in particular has stated that Cambodia had lost its sovereignty and independence to China. And Cambodia has aligned with China against the US.

Such argument does not reflect the entirety and reality of Cambodia’s foreign policy. Some regard such observation totally unacceptable and as an insult. To counter such spreading misperception, public diplomacy and explaining mission have become even more essential.

Hence parliamentary diplomacy helps Cambodia to maintain its independence and sovereignty through the socialisation of norms and rules, especially with regards to the respect of non-interference principle.

The Cambodian parliament has consistently conveyed the messages that independence and sovereignty are the basic principles of foreign policy and Cambodia strictly adheres to its Constitution.

Parliamentary diplomacy also has a potential role to reduce misunderstanding, defuse tensions, build political trust, and strengthen a rules-based international order.

Another challenge for the Cambodian parliament relates to democracy and human rights agenda, which have been utilized and manipulated by some countries to interfere into Cambodia’s domestic affairs.

The Cambodian parliament has shown its commitment to sustain and nurture multi-party democratic system and the respect of human rights and fundamental freedom. The political will is clear, but when it comes to implementation there are some loopholes.

We need to understand that democratisation is a journey and a process, which requires quality, constructive participation from all stakeholders. And along the way there must be some adjustments, sometimes critical.

Within the context of rising global geopolitical uncertainties and tensions, the Cambodian parliament needs to double its efforts and invest more in parliamentary diplomacy.

Research and capacity building are necessary and closer coordination and consultation between the parliament and the foreign ministry is needed.

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