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Cambodian parliament embarks on explaining its mission

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Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 137th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). kremlin.ru

Today the delegates of the Cambodian Parliament, consisting of the members from the National Assembly and Senate, led by Second Vice-President of the National Assembly the Honourable Khuon Sudary, will depart to attend the 141st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Belgrade from October 13 to 17.

The theme of the assembly this year focuses on parliamentary roles and mechanisms in strengthening international law and regional cooperation. Cambodia will call upon the international community to work more closely to promote peace, advance rules-based international order and strengthen international partnership for sustainable development.

According to the news release by the National Assembly, the head of the Cambodian delegation will address five main points. First, Cambodia will stress that democracy and human rights need to be promoted under the framework of Cambodian and international laws in a consistent manner within the national context. Second, Cambodia is committed to enhancing an open, inclusive and effective multilateral system.

Third, peace and stability are the preconditions for socio-economic development. Cambodia would not have been able to achieve its high economic performance of 7% growth rate over the past two decades if peace and stability had not existed.

Fourth, the hard-earned peace and stability in Cambodia remain fragile because of rising political extremism, demagogy and foreign meddling in Cambodia’s domestic affairs.

The final point draws attention to the efforts and contributions of the Cambodian parliament in promoting world peace and development.

Notably, next year, the Cambodian parliament will host the 11th Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP-11), which is an important legislative wing of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). It will be an opportunity for Cambodia to further strengthen its internal role and image.

Cambodia has been unfairly accused of violating human rights and fundamental freedoms by various international organisations. Explaining the country’s realities and priorities to the outside world has been an uphill struggle for the Kingdom.

Some international media outlets have accused Cambodia on many fronts including the loss of its independence to China and being trapped in debt to China, the collapse of democracy, and serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These accusations have been rejected by the Cambodian government as baseless, biased and being politically motivated.

To counter such negative narratives, Cambodia’s public diplomacy therefore needs to be drastically improved. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has done its part in developing and implementing a “nation branding” strategy. The parliamentary diplomacy has also been strengthened recently. However, other state agencies and non-state actors such as civil society groups and private corporations need to work together to promote Cambodia’s national image and prestige.

Cambodia is in transition from a traditional to modern form of public communication, but it is still in its infancy. We need to understand that the traditional propaganda machine does not work anymore, especially within the context of increasing popularity and the impact of social media. The young generation tends to believe in what they read and see online: They are largely not interested in watching TV and reading newspapers.

A novel communication strategy is needed. Digital platforms have become a dominant source of producing and distributing news and views. This is a paradigm shift in terms of public consumption of information and public perception towards certain issues.

Engaging international organisations is critical to promoting Cambodia’s international image and role. However, the Cambodian participants must know how to send key, articulate messages more effectively – not just taking photos and sending feeling-good reports back home.

The Cambodian parliament has started to develop its diplomatic strategy, especially with regards to democracy and human rights. The consistent view on these issues is that democracy and human rights cannot be achieved without peace and development.

Peace and stability are the priorities of nation building. Democracy prevails and thrives. Socio-economic development is vibrant. Human rights, especially the rights and women and children, have gradually improved. The poverty rate has dropped to less than 10 percent. And Cambodia is committed to realising its vision to becoming a high-income country by 2050.

Cambodia will continue to give priority to peace and stability and strengthen its plural pollical system and the rule of law as a foundation of sustainable peace – preventing all attempts or activities that might derail its peaceful and democratic path and encouraging and empowering the people to understand their rights and duties for national development.

Democracy, human rights and rule of law, Cambodia believes, are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Realising human rights for all is a long-term process, which requires quality and constructive participation from all stakeholders especially the local community.

Democracy and human rights should not be politicised or weaponised to achieve geopolitical gains. The Cambodian government has shown resolve to protect its independence and sovereignty at all costs.

It is a long-term, uphill diplomatic struggle for Cambodia to explain the facts on the ground and convince international sceptics and critics to have a more neutral and objective assessment of Cambodia. To do that, Cambodia needs a whole-of-government or even a whole-of-society approach to substantiate, effectuate and empower this “explaining mission”.

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