Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said he was proud that Cambodia had hosted the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM-Plus, which issued a joint communique that showed the commitment of all ASEAN member states, as well as China and the US, to maintaining regional peace and stability.
The 9th ADMM and ADMM-Plus meetings were held in Siem Reap on November 22-23, with the participation of defence ministers from ASEAN and its partner countries China, the US, Australia and India.
Speaking at a press conference at the close of the meeting, Tea Banh said the participants exchanged views on the promotion of defence cooperation in the region for peace and prosperity.
Tea Banh said those attending the ADMM-Plus meeting had listened to a report on new developments in the region and exchanged views on regional and global security and pushed for strategic dialogue to promote defence cooperation.
He said that one tangible achievement from the meeting is an agreement by ASEAN members to let Canada, France and the UK join the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group (EWG) Observership programme.
“We are proud that at the end of this meeting, the ADMM-Plus could issue a joint communique which expresses our commitment to the protection of peace in the region through the support of ASEAN centrality and its core role for the region,” he said.
In the six-page joint communique, the ADMM-Plus said they “reaffirmed their commitment to promoting sustainable peace and security in the region by reinforcing strategic trust and mutual confidence within ASEAN and in the wider region through enhancing collaboration and dialogues under ASEAN-led mechanisms, particularly the ADMM-Plus framework, in accordance with the principles set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)”.
Regarding Cambodia-US military relations, in particular, Tea Banh said the Kingdom is keen to establish and maintain good military cooperation with the US and that his meeting with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Cambodia can be regarded as a historical event in terms of furthering that goal.
“I can say that at the face-to-face meeting between us, we talked frankly about some issues that had caused [Cambodia-US] military cooperation to subside, but during the discussion we looked for ways to restore the situation,” he said, adding without elaborating that any future cooperation would probably shy away from “sensitive issues”.
“We want to cooperate with the US in areas that are not too sensitive, such as humanitarian work or professional training or any subjects that are a good distance away from politics,” he said.
Tea Banh said the US side was also open to cooperation of that sort, though Austin once again brought up US suspicions about the Ream Naval Base having a Chinese military presence.
Tea Banh said he stressed to Austin once again that Cambodia does not allow foreign troops on its territory and that China has no intention of placing any military assets there.
Cambodia-US military cooperation had been going well until 2017 when their joint military exercises such as Angkor Sentinel were cancelled after being conducted for the previous seven years, with analysts generally attributing it to Cambodia’s growing relationship with China.
Although the US still has a military attache assigned to the US embassy in Phnom Penh, there is no sign thus far of the resumption of the joint military exercises.
Thong Meng David, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said that Cambodia hosting the ADMM and ADMM-Plus in its capacity as ASEAN chair was another big success for the Kingdom.
He said that in order for these meetings to produce the desired results, it required an open, inclusive, and honest dialogue from all members. Cambodia, as ASEAN chair, has an ambition to make the region peaceful and prosperous with good cooperation between its member states.
“Cambodia is pushing for an implementation of peaceful diplomacy, but it still needs a military with good capacity and experience, especially to take part in the UN peacekeeping missions,” he said.