Indonesia and Malaysia test Asean unity

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Opposition supporters wave national flags of some Western countries who were signatory parties to the 22 year old Paris Peace Agreement, Phnom Penh, Oct 24, 2013. wikipedia/Heng Reaksmey (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

The decision by the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to allow fugitive Cambodian politicians to use their countries as political platforms against the Cambodian government is a clear violation of the non-interference principle of Asean.

The non-interference principle is the foundation of the survival of Asean. The violation of such principle will lead to the collapse of this inter-governmental organisation.

Asean unity and cohesiveness can be realised with the condition that all the members are bound by the Asean Charter and other international legal instruments, particularly the principles of non-interference, sovereign equality, and mutual respect.

Asean is at a crossroads. The risks come from both domestic politics, intra-Asean relations, and geopolitical competition between major powers.

Regional peace and stability are getting more fluid and fragile due to rising domestic political polarisation, populist politics, ethno-religious extremism, and foreign interference.

Cambodia’s domestic politics have been over-internationalised in the past few days. This is the strategy of Sam Rainsy and his clique, who have been trying to gain “political capital” by creating political upheavals and havocs.

International observers and politicians, including some in Asean member countries, are not fully aware of the latest political development and dynamics in Cambodia. Some of them buy into the political rhetoric of Sam Rainsy, who has been trying to portray himself as the victim of the Cambodian government.

In reality, Sam Rainsy is the mastermind behind all political upheavals in Cambodia. He has called for the armed forces to rise up against a legitimate government. He has insulted His Majesty the King, and he has called for a people power movement.

Can other Asean member countries tolerate such political extremism and populism? What if Cambodia decides to host extremists from Indonesia or Malaysia? The principle of reciprocity can be applied if these two countries host Cambodian extremists.

Certain political lobby groups might have different political agenda and interests. Factional politics might complicate the decision-making process. However, the government remains responsible in foreign policy decision.

The Cambodian government will not be silent, observing foreign countries interfering into Cambodia’s domestic politics. Reactions and counteractions will be an option. Such reactionary cycle will further complicate and derail the bilateral relationship between Cambodia and those interventionist countries.

Asean members must respect the core values and principles of intra-regional relations otherwise they put the future of Asean into uncertainty and trouble. Everyone acknowledges that without a strong and united Asean, the whole region will not be able to enjoy peace and development.

Indonesia and Malaysia should think twice before giving political platforms to political extremists and fugitives from Cambodia on technicalities, valid or otherwise. Cambodia has reciprocated when called upon to do so on several instances.

Now the major task to rebuild trust and mutual respect, understand who Rainsy really is and not be hoodwinked in any form or manner.

True political will with the Asean spirit can serve common regional interests.

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