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Cambodia’s diplomatic success in Belgrade

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Mr Sam Rainsy and his clique have lost international credibility and trust as he is embracing political extremism and populist politics. His call for the armed forces to rebel against a legitimate government was not acceptable in the eyes of the international community.

His failure to deliver his remarks at the 141st IPU Assembly, due to the intervention from the Cambodian parliamentary delegation, was a diplomatic disaster. That was a remarkable diplomatic blow and humiliation for Sam Rainsy.

The Cambodian parliamentary delegation led by Ms. Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, returned home with commendable diplomatic success after exercising “offensive diplomacy” to ban fugitive Sam Rainsy from speaking at the 141st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Belgrade last week.

It needs to be noted that the IPU used to be a political stronghold of Mr Sam Rainsy and his clique. The IPU Assembly, especially the meeting of the committee on human rights of parliamentarians, has been used as a platform to attack the Cambodian government with regards to human rights violations.

This year, IPU has shown a more neutral and positive attitude towards Cambodia. Two remarkable things happened at the 141st IPU Assembly. First, upon the request of the Cambodian delegates, the IPU secretariat decided to remove Sam Rainsy from the list of speakers under the disguise of Liberal International- he was listed as the last speaker under session B with the number 64 as the speaker’s slot. Second, Cambodia was not included in the agenda item of the meeting of the committee on human rights of parliamentarians.

Four lessons can be drawn from the diplomatic success of the Cambodian delegation at the IPU Assembly. First, the head of the delegates paid close attention to all the details. Early figuring out the name of Sam Rainsy- listed as R Sam under Liberal International- on 14th October was the most crucial, given the Cambodian delegates were not informed of the list of speakers until the last minute.

Second, early diplomatic intervention or offensive diplomacy was robustly exerted. Two letters were drafted on 14th October and few bilateral meetings were conducted on the same day. The letters were submitted in person directly to the Secretary General of IPU and the Speaker of the National Assembly of Serbia who also assumed the President of the 141th IPU Assembly.

The brief informal meeting between the head of the Cambodian delegation with the President of the 141st IPU Assembly, the Honourable Maja Gojković, at the dinner reception on the 14th was crucial as it was a tactical and political strategy  to show Cambodia’s resolve to urge IPU to remove  Sam Rainsy from the list of speakers.

Third, close consultation with senior leaders in the capital was also conducted. The head of the Cambodian delegation swiftly informed and sought advices from the top leaders in the capital in order to strategically coordinate diplomatic intervention and responses.

Fourth, the spirit of teamwork  was effectively implemented. All the senior members of the Cambodian delegation were urgently called for a meeting to discuss communication strategy together with drafting the letters and other statements. The inputs and contribution by the team members were critical to craft and fine tune communication strategy.

Fifth, quiet diplomacy and personal connections and friendship count. The Cambodian delegates diligently communicated with IPU secretariat and other delegates with due respect based on the principles, values and spirit of IPU.

Drawing the lesson learned from Belgrade, a small state like Cambodia can implement offensive diplomacy at low cost. Some points to consider are. First, we need to correctly analyse the situation and stakeholders so that we could intervene appropriately and robustly.

Second, we need to develop a communication strategy that reflects the thinking of the top leaders and the members of the delegates. Third, leadership matters the most. The head of the delegation must always stay vigilant and make decisive, swift action. A sense of ownership and responsibility must be embraced.

Cambodia’s parliamentary diplomacy is gaining momentum to realise the objectives of Cambodia’s foreign policy which include maintaining independence, protecting sovereignty, promoting peace and development, and enhancing national image and prestige.

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