Cambodia, as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2022, was forced to address a host of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic troubles, the Taiwan Strait crisis, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the civil war in Myanmar. Among the aforementioned issues, Myanmar’s domestic crisis was the challenge that most directly affected the Southeast Asian regional bloc. During its year as ASEAN chair, Cambodia put a lot of effort into resolving the crisis, and Cambodia’s top diplomats made a number of visits to the country. Despite the fact that there was little progress in the implementation on ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan, there are some lessons that Indonesia, ASEAN’s current chair, can learn from Cambodia.
The first lesson is that Indonesia should not pressure Myanmar or isolate it from ASEAN, and should instead work with the military junta in a flexible and informal manner. This engagement is not aimed at legitimizing or accommodating the military junta, but at navigating possible ways to rebuild trust and confidence with the military in pursuit of the effective implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, which calls for an immediate end to the violence in the country and inclusive political dialogue involving “all parties” to the conflict.
Shortly after Cambodia took over the chairmanship of ASEAN, high-ranking Cambodian government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, visited Myanmar – a sign of Phnom Penh’s willingness to push forward the ASEAN peace plan. The Cambodian government hailed Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s pledge to extend a national ceasefire until the end of 2022 and his welcoming of the ASEAN envoy to Myanmar. However, Cambodia did not shy away from condemning the regime. In July, it strongly condemned the military government for carrying out the execution of the five pro-democracy activists and accused the junta of a gross lack of will to implement the Consensus.