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World Leaders Convene in Phnom Penh for Asean Summit

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba exchanged signed documents with Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn during a ceremony for the Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia by Ukraine at the Asean summit in Phnom Penh on November 10, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba exchanged signed documents with Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn during a ceremony for the Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia by Ukraine at the Asean summit in Phnom Penh on November 10, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Cambodia launched the start of the 40th Asean summit and related regional meetings on Wednesday as world leaders from 29 countries converged in Phnom Penh to join four days of discussions on topics ranging from how to deal with Myanmar’s junta, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contested claims to the South China Sea.

While the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’s most controversial issues were not yet publicly addressed, Asean summit spokesperson Kung Phoak expressed optimism about the summit even as he acknowledged Cambodia’s ongoing struggles as Asean chair. 

“Since Cambodia became the Asean chair, we have already had some challenges, including the issue of Myanmar and Ukraine,” said Phoak, who is also Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia. “It causes uncertainty to our effort. But Asean is ready to respond to the challenges.” 

There was “no progress” on Myanmar and Asean “needs more time to resolve” the situation, Phoak added in a press briefing Thursday evening. He said Asean will continue to try to apply its Five Point Consensus, even as Myanmar’s junta has failed to implement the plan despite agreeing to do so in April 2021.

The first day of the summit saw Ukraine join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, a regional peace treaty which Russia previously signed. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will not attend the summit.

“We also stand in support of addressing the issue [the Russian invasion of Ukraine] peacefully, we are against the use of force,” Phoak said.

But a request by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to give a speech via video during the Asean summit was denied, Phoak said. He did not provide a specific reason.

Heng Samrin, president of Cambodia’s National Assembly, also announced the five policy positions of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA). The policies included enhancing climate resilience and renewable energy transitions, maintaining the 2030 UN Sustainable Development goals, implementing Asean’s disaster management plan, establishing an AIPA digital law library and “the harmonisation of regional legal frameworks,” according to a Wednesday post from the Cambodian government’s Agence Kampuchea Presse.

Prominent activists, such as the Nagaworld strikers, Boeing Tamok residents and hunger strikers seeking to draw attention to the incarceration of Theary Seng, all expressed they would continue their protests through the Asean summit events, despite warnings of legal action from Phnom Penh authorities. 

The opposition Candlelight Party also released a statement on Wednesday in anticipation of the U.S. President Joe Biden’s arrival on Saturday.

“I am humbly writing to ask for your intervention to urge the CPP_led government to stop all kinds of political persecutions, harassments, intimidations” Teav Vannol wrote, urging Biden to “leverage” Cambodia’s government to respect the Paris Peace Agreement. 

Reuters reported that Hun Sen, in the meantime, appeared ready to welcome Biden and other world leaders with gifts of luxury watches.

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