Due to his advancing age, Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that he has no intention of chairing ASEAN for a fourth time, when the Kingdom assumes the rotating chair in 10 years’ time.
Several political observers have commented on the success of the previous three Cambodia-hosted summits, including the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, which wrapped up on November 13.
“I will not chair the Kingdom’s fourth term as head of ASEAN. By the time our fourth term begins, I will be 80 years old. It was enough of an honour to fulfill the role three times,” Hun Sen told national and international journalists on November 13, as he briefed the media on the four-day summits.
He added that the task of chairing ASEAN is a difficult one, and required the support of intelligent foreign ministers and excellent assistants, as well as capable and patient officials.
He made it clear that without the valuable contributions of senior officials and relevant institutions, Cambodia could not have successfully held the chairmanship in 2022.
Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy programme manager at the Cambodian Youth Network, said the prime minister’s announcement came as no surprise. The leadership of the ruling party had already made it clear that they are preparing a successor, with Hun Manet already having been designated and endorsed as the future prime ministerial candidate for the Cambodian People’s Party.
He added that he considered it time for Cambodia to consider empowering young people to contribute to decision making at the national and regional level. In the past – and at present – youth participation in politics remained limited when compared to other ASEAN countries.
Kimhong said that in preparation for the participation of the next generation in regional and global affairs, including the Kingdom’s fourth term as ASEAN chair, he wanted to see the older generation serve as advisers, sharing their accumulated wisdom with the younger members of the leadership.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, spoke highly of Hun Sen’s achievements in his three terms as ASEAN chair.
He said Cambodia had successfully integrated its ideas and views into the regional organisation. These innovations and positions were expressed through hundreds of documents. He singled out Hun Sen’s role in facilitating strained ASEAN-China relations over the South China Sea issue as a particular highlight.
“Hun Sen opened important diplomatic doors for Cambodia and promoted national pride, boosting the Kingdom’s prestige, both globally and in the region. The prime minister utilised ASEAN mechanisms to develop the country through the expansion of trade partners, which has led to increased investment. ASEAN also serves as an important security shield for Cambodia,” he added.
He said that the main political legacies of Hun Sen and ASEAN were to guide the smooth reintegration of Cambodia into the region and the world. The legacy had changed the situation of Cambodia. It had been transformed from an isolated nation in the 1980s to a country with equal status with regard to regional and international affairs.
Where once the Kingdom was known for the killing fields, starvation and economic embargos, its contribution to regional and global affairs – thanks in large part to Hun Sen – meant that it was now viewed favourably by the international community, he added.