China looms large over Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship

As Phnom Penh takes over regional bloc's rotating leadership speculation is rife it will act to favor Beijing's interests.

In the aftermath of a precedent-setting decision to exclude Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in October, the regional organization finds itself at a crossroads, with its consensus-based process under strain as one of its ten members descents into civil war and pariah status.

Events in Myanmar have put the bloc’s credibility on the line, and critics have pointed to Brunei, which has held ASEAN’s annual rotating chairmanship this year, for failing to act decisively in its response to the political crisis. In what is likely to be his last tenure as ASEAN’s chair, Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen will helm the regional grouping in 2022.

Amid reports of Chinese lobbying for Min Aung Hlaing’s inclusion at next week’s ASEAN-China summit and stiff resistance on the part of regional countries, questions are rising as to how Phnom Penh’s close ties to Beijing could impact its handling of the Myanmar debacle as ASEAN’s chair, as well as other geopolitical challenges confronting the region.

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