Hun Sen Has Botched Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s time as the ASEAN chair is running out. In a way, 2022 has been much like the previous year–particularly in the maddening context of Myanmar, where Brunei, the previous chair stumbled to the finish line after largely failed diplomacy after the February 2021 coup. In other ways, Brunei’s shepherding of the ill-fated Five-Point Consensus (FPC) and the creation of the ASEAN Special Envoy wasn’t Cambodia’s fault; Hun Sen inherited the mess. And the Security Council, already negligent on its normative duties, punted to ASEAN as early as March of 2021.

Even if Hun Sen relished the international spotlight, Cambodia wasn’t exactly ready to shine. While most ASEAN states were leaning toward condemnation of the coup and essentially blocked Myanmar’s presence at the ASEAN Summit in October 2021, Hun Sen tried to bring the military junta’s leadership back into the ASEAN circle by directly engaging the junta’s appointed minister of foreign affairs, Wunna Maung Lwin, back in December. He next announced that he would personally visit Myanmar to meet with coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, giving Myanmar a thin layer of legitimacy. An already frustrated and persecuted Burmese public protested, torching images of Hun Sen, and chanting vulgar slogans in anger. All the while, Hun Sen bristled at criticism, telling critics, “Please do not bother me. Give me a chance to solve the issue.” He did no such thing.

Hun Sen is not a patient man, nor has Cambodia’s tenure as ASEAN chair engendered any of that virtue. Critics have long seen the Tatmadaw’s brutality used on its own people, and the execution of four democratic activists, including an ex-Member of Parliament gave Hun Sen no clue. His pleas for their lives, calling it a “great concern among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its external partners,” fell on deaf ears. Hun Sen’s own mass trials of activists accused of treason for allegedly attempting to overthrow his government are just a stone’s throw away from the same arbitrary tactics employed by Myanmar’s junta.

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