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ASEAN’s Contribution to Regional Peace and Stability: A Cambodian Perspective

by Lim Hokseng
Chapter nine takes an inside-out view to examine ASEAN’s contribution to stability and peace in the region. It reflects on the evolution of ASEAN into a determinant of regional security architecture but also the strains caused by the conflicts between national and collective interests.

It has become a tendency among many commentators and pundits to describe Cambodia’s approach to ASEAN as ambiguous at best and harmful at worst. This conceived image is perhaps derived mainly from ASEAN’s debacle during the Kingdom’s Chairmanship in 2012 due to the controversial issue of the South China Sea. The incident has, by and large, pointed out ASEAN’s persistent struggle with regionalism and how to manage regional peace and stability with a general tendency of pointing fingers at Cambodia.
To many, the practice of regionalism is seen logically through a conceptual lens as an instrument of a unified strength either for or against something. This strongly prescribes that a country, when becoming a part of a group, must have a shared purpose and that each country’s national interest is, therefore, synonymous with the bloc’s interest. Indeed, this preconceived idea makes sense for an intellectual discussion but overlooks reality. It finds no common ground to “reconcile between regionalism and the practice of nationalism” (Rajaratnam et al., 2007).
The hard truth is that ASEAN is a collection of nations with diverse domestic political, socio-cultural, and foreign policy orientations. Observably, some members are allies of the West whereas some wish to pursue non-alignment. However, all of them have economically benefited, in one way or another, from their relations with China. With such disparity, the consensus decision-making process might be the only practical road to an eventual satisfactory solution for every stakeholder. The unprecedented non-issuance of the Joint Communiqué of the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the so-called “2012 Phnom Penh fiasco”, is a clear consequence of the conflicting interests between national and regional as well as a breach of the bloc’s principle that helps to sustain the momentum of regional peace and stability for decades.
Like other ASEAN Member States, Cambodia also sees ASEAN from the standpoint of its own domestic concerns and its political, security and economic interests. Although Cambodia’s approach to ASEAN may be different from those of other Member States, Cambodia, since its entry into this regional grouping, has consistently upheld and even staunchly advocated ASEAN’s interests, principles and values. Cambodia’s Foreign Minister PRAK Sokhonn explicitly pointed out in his remark on the occasion of the ASEAN’s 50th Anniversary, “ASEAN was attractive for Cambodia in terms of joint commitments and collective responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity and the peace that ASEAN has developed so far can only be achieved through trust, dialogue and consultation and not through polarisation or worse still agitation over the already heated tension” (MFAIC 2017).
Cambodia clearly recognises that there is a ‘regional interest’ that could best serve everyone, and those are peace, stability and prosperity of the region.

Without a doubt, “the maintenance and enhancement of peace, security and stability and the strengthening of peace-oriented value in the region” have been a long-established cornerstone of ASEAN and subsequently codified into its Charter (ASEAN 2008). An attempt to use an open confrontation tactic to pursue a separate national interest was not only seen as an act to destabilise peace and stability in the region but also run counter to both ASEAN’s and Cambodia’s ultimate objective of safeguarding peace and stability.
For Cambodia, its painful past caused by decades of destructive war and a modern-world tragedy has surreptitiously propelled the Kingdom to pursue the peace objective. This might entrench its firm belief that only when the region is at peace can Cambodia concentrate on its own national development and regional integration. Cambodia sees ASEAN as a key platform for interactions, cooperation, and maintenance as well as promotion of peace and stability in the region.
In 2022, Cambodia takes the role of ASEAN Chairmanship. In this regard, this chapter aims to highlight the roles of ASEAN in the evolving regional security architecture since its existence and provide some suggestions of how Cambodia as chair can enhance ASEAN as a catalyst for peace and stability amid emerging regional security threats.