Cambodia will be ASEAN chair next year — its third time since joining the regional group in 1999. The last time Cambodia chaired ASEAN was in 2012, when it was fiercely criticised for siding with China at the expense of other ASEAN states over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
ASEAN failed to issue a joint statement for the first time in its 45-year history after Cambodia reportedly refused to include language criticising China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Yet Cambodia will be confronted by an even more difficult set of challenges as ASEAN chair in 2022. First is the need to conclude the highly anticipated Code of Conduct needed to address conflicting territorial claims in the region’s disputed waters. This issue could cause divisions between ASEAN members and potentially undermine the bloc’s centrality, unity and relevance to Asia Pacific governance more broadly.