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Cambodia’s foreign policy 2020

The Phnom Penh skyline. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The annual conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation wrapped up last week with several key observations and messages on international politics and Cambodia’s foreign policy priorities.

Cambodia perceives that the world order is in transition towards multipolarisation or even a multiplex world where old and new global actors, state and non-state actors, are dynamically interacting and evolving along a complex, uncertain and dangerous trend.

Cambodia believes that multilateralism and rules-based international order are the keys in maintaining world peace, promoting shared prosperity and addressing emerging global issues such as climate change, natural disasters and pandemic diseases. No single country can address such interconnected and complex global issues. Therefore, international partnership and collaboration is required.

Addressing the closing ceremony of the annual conference, Prime Minister Hun Sen stressed that rules-based international order and multilateralism are under assault because of protectionism and unilateralism. Small and weaker states are becoming more vulnerable to fast-evolving global geopolitics at varying degrees. He raised questions concerning who creates the rules, who enforces the rules and who are affected by the rules.

Striking a balance between national interests and international responsibility is a real challenge. For Cambodia, maintaining a balance and permanent neutrality in its external relations is not easy but it is a must. PM Hun Sen said that we could achieve peace, stability and prosperity only if we could protect independence, sovereignty and neutrality.

Heightening power competition and rivalries between major powers, foreign intervention and international sanctions are posing significant threats to international peace and stability. Cambodia is concerned that its independence and sovereignty are being undermined by some external actors – both state and non-state players – who have been interfering in Cambodia’s domestic affairs under the umbrella of democracy and human rights. Within such a context, the Kingdom has asserted many times that nothing is more valuable than independence, sovereignty and self-determination.

Notably, the European Union (EU) will make a final decision on whether to revoke preferential treatment under the Everything but Arms (EBA) trade deal this month. The decision will affect, to some extent, the economic performance and political landscape in Cambodia as well as the geopolitical weight of the EU in the Kingdom.

Nothing is certain and predictable now. But many Cambodian observers predict that it will be partial revocation. If so, the affects will be manageable. Cambodian leaders have said confidently that Cambodia would continue to thrive and move forward with or without EBA. Time will tell how resilient and strong the Cambodian economy is in dealing with external pressures and shocks.

It has been clear that the Cambodian government will not surrender sovereignty and independence to ask for support and favour from foreign countries. This reflects a firm principle of having an “independent” foreign policy.

PM Hun Sen sets out five main tasks in foreign policy. First, protecting independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and neutrality and maintaining peace, security, social order and social unity. Second, effectively implementing the slogan, “expanding international friends based on the spirit of independence”.  Third, promoting economic diplomacy to attract more foreign direct investments and expand export markets for Cambodian products. Fourth, supporting and strengthening multilateralism to address emerging global issues and challenges, enhance rules-based international order and work towards the realisation of sustainable development goals. Finally, increasing the capability and professionalism of diplomats.

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