Asean Summit Seen as Opportunity for a Balanced Cambodian Foreign Policy

Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, November 16, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Cambodia will host the Asean and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh next week, during which major regional security topics will be discussed amid visits by world leaders, including the US president. Ernie Bower, head of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, recently spoke with VOA Khmer’s Soeung Sophat. Bower says the international attention that comes from the summits presents an opportunity for Prime Minister Hun Sen to demonstrate that his country has a balanced foreign policy, and will allow Cambodia to address criticism over failed Asean meetings in July and to improve its partnership with the US.

Editor’s Note: This interview was also broadcast on Cambodian News Channel (CNC) TV before the 21th Asean Summit in Phnom Penh.

Victory for Yingluck, Victory for Border Peace?

Yingluck Shinawatra, the opposition Pheu Thai Party's candidate for prime minister and youngest sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures as she attends a press conference at the party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday, July 3, 2011. (Photo: AP / Vincent Yu)

Yingluck Shinawatra, the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s candidate for prime minister and youngest sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures as she attends a press conference at the party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday, July 3, 2011. (Photo: AP / Vincent Yu)

Soeung Sophat, Washington, VOA Crossroads Cambodia Blog, July 9, 2011

Optimism about a peaceful settlement along the Thai-Cambodia border after Pheu Thai’s landslide victory is not shared by everyone.

The Cambodian government was quick to welcome the Party’s election victory and is confident the long-running dispute can now be settled more peacefully in a “new era”. The goodwill was returned by Yingluck Shinawatra, the head of the victorious party and sister to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck said her new government would make restoring relations with neighboring countries a “priority.”

This restoration process may be easier said than done. The border dispute is driven by nationalism and remains entangled in Thai domestic politics. Powerful actors will resist any “U-turn” in policy toward Cambodia. One of these is the Thai military, who, according to John Ciorciari, “will likely oppose a precipitous shift in policy from Bangkok.” Nationalist groups, particularly the People’s Alliance for Democracy, are determined to continue the opposition to any thawed relations with Phnom Penh, as they have done in the past.

Cambodia’s main opposition party cautiously welcomed the more amicable climate, saying that that international involvement remains crucial to solving the border dispute. Analysts agree, saying that Indonesia, as current head of Asean, should be keen on seizing momentumand getting the two countries to return to negotiations.

There is no question that the dispute has been internationalized, with both countries awaiting another ruling from the International Court of Justice on July 18. But as Cambodians are celebrating the third anniversary of the Preah Vihear temple’s listing this week, it remains to be seen whether the current peace at the border will hold, for good.