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ASEAN and History of Cambodia’s Membership

Introduction to ASEAN

An Overview of ASEAN and ASEAN Structure

ASEAN is well known as the regional association which is composed of ten countries in Southeast Asia. It used to go through a long controversial history before it now becomes the regional effective and dynamic association. With its vital history, legal treaties and declarations, high commitment of its members as well as its hierarchical structure, ASEAN is more or less best recognized as the main, effective actor in regional and global governance.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations, shortly ASEAN, was established on August 08, 1967 by five founding states, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. Before the establishment of ASEAN, there were two existing sub-regional associations in Southeast Asia: Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) in 1961 and Maphilindo in 1963. ASA consisted of the Federation of Malaya, Philippines, and Thailand. Moreover, it confined itself to economic and cultural purposes as well as excluded the largest regional state, Indonesia, and some other crucial states in mainland Southeast Asia. After ASA failed due to the inadequacy of solving territorial conflicts among members during 1960s, Maphilindo was formed by the Federation of Malaya, Philippines, and Indonesia in order to end conflicts and ideological differences in the Malay-based countries in Southeast Asia (Rodolfo, 2008). However, Maphilindo proved to be inadequate to contain and solve territorial conflicts among members. As a result, it failed, and a new broader and more effective association was sought to serve as a vehicle for promisingly bringing the members peace and development through strong regional cooperation in the form of collective security and conflict management. Because of the diplomatic negotiation to end Konfrontasi and because of the fear of uncertainty during Cold War (Donald, 2009), ASEAN was created to explicitly pronounce itself open to all states within the Southeast Asia including Burma and Cambodia as original members regardless of political ideology. However, both states turned downed the membership invitations due to anxiety of the Cold War and suspicion of the association’s orientation. Consequently they preserved their status as absolutely non-aligned countries. Until the reunification of Vietnam and consolidation of Laos and especially the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has embraced all states including Cambodia in Southeast Asia and served as the main actor in the critical global governance. Sequentially, Brunei joined ASEAN on January 08, 1984, Vietnam on July 28, 1995, Laos and Burma on July 23, 1997, and Cambodia on April 30, 1999 as the tenth member of ASEAN.

In order to cooperatively build peace as well as prosperity in Southeast Asia and in the critical global governance, ASEAN members singed Bangkok Declaration as the development framework and many legal declarations such as ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality in Southeast Asia) on November 27, 1971, TAC (Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia) in 1976, and the Declaration of ASEAN Concord on February 24, 1976. In addition, ASEAN also established ASEAN Free Trade Area to reduce high tariff and non-tariff barriers. Importantly, on October 07, 2003, Bali Concord II was signed to create ASEAN Community consisting of three pillars, namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation. Besides, ASEAN also establishes 2020 vision, ASEAN Nuclear-Free Zone, and ASEAN Charter under which all member states work cooperatively to foster mutual understanding, provide reciprocal assistances, and build durable peace, stability, as well as prosperity in Southeast Asia. Also, ASEAN partly serves as the key catalyst for the peace and development in context of global governance.

The highest decision-making organ of ASEAN is the ASEAN Summit – the meeting of ASEAN Heads of States and of Governments. This supreme meeting is held annually, and the chairmanship rotates among member states according to alphabetical order. ASEAN also has the ASEAN Coordinating Council consists of ASEAN Foreign Ministers with twice meetings annually. These meetings are held for preparing the ASEAN Summit through coordination of implementation of agreements and decisions. (Wahyuningrum, 2009).

Under ASEAN Coordinating Council, there is ASEAN Community Council which consists of Political and Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural Community Council. Each Council has the purview over Sectoral Ministerial Bodies, designates its meetings, ensures and summits reports and implementation of the relevant decisions to the ASEAN Summit, and coordinates the work of the different sectors on issues which cut across the other Community Council (Wahyuningrum, 2009).

Under ASEAN Community Council, there are ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies implementing agreements and decisions of ASEAN Summit, strengthen cooperation in their fields, and send reports and recommendations to their Community Council. Moreover, Secretary General of ASEAN is appointed by the ASEAN Summit for non-renewable 5-year term based on the merit and accorded ministerial status (Secretary, n.d.).

Secretary General has only duties and responsibilities under the ASEAN Charter such as facilitating and monitoring the progress of reports and recommendations of agreements and decisions and participating in all meetings.

ASEAN Secretariats are appointed on the principle or open recruitment and regional-wide competition. Its basic function is to provide high standard of integrity, competence, and efficiency in duties and to initiate, facilitate, and coordinate the stakeholders of ASEAN (ASEAN, n.d.).

Committee of Permanent Representatives is appointed by each ASEAN member to support and facilitate the work of ASEAN Community Council and ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial bodies and to coordinate cooperatively with ASEAN National Secretariat and Sectoral Ministerial bodies. Moreover, the Committee also assists Secretary-General and Secretariats in subjects relevant to work and facilitates ASEAN cooperation with external partners.

ASEAN National Secretariat maintains the repository of all ASEAN matters at national level. It also coordinates and supports the implementation of national decisions and participation of ASEAN meetings. Furthermore, it also promotes the identity and awareness of ASEAN in member states at the national level. Moreover, ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is the commission to develop a long term strategy for protecting and promoting human rights and to build a better ASEAN Community (Wahyuningrum, 2009). ASEAN also has ASEAN Troika, ASEAN Regional Forum, and AFTA Council for peace maintenance and capacity building of ASEAN in today’s context of global governance.

Process of Cambodia’s Accession to ASEAN

Although ASEAN was formed to prevent regional tensions through collective political coherence, it was still regarded as an ill-equipped association due to its principle of non-interference. Clearly, in early 1979, Cambodia was governed by Vietnam-backed government, and the fighting escalated by three factional parties: Khmer Rouge, FUNCINPEC and KPLNF, and the Vietnamese-backed regime (Sorpong, 1998). This posted the great threat to ASEAN regional security. ASEAN did little but contained the conflict through diplomatic means with international community to pressure Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia. After disengagement of Vietnam from Cambodia as well as the end of the Cold War, ASEAN aimed to include Cambodia and other regional states as its members for the sake of maintaining regional peace and security. Consequently, after the Paris Peace Accords, Cambodia paved its way to be ASEAN guest from 1993 to 1995, ASEAN observer from 1995 to 1996, and finally full member on April 30, 1999.

On October 23, 1991, Cambodia signed the Paris Peace Accords for internal peace and connected its relationship with ASEAN countries who were the signatories of the accords. Moreover, with positive view about regional security, ASEAN agreed to help Cambodia find the solutions to deal with internal issues and to highly encourage Cambodia to be an ASEAN member (Nareth, 2007).

After the national election on May 23-28, 1993 supported by UNTAC, Cambodia formed the multi-party government and adopted the multi-liberal democratic politics with the foreign policy in favor of having diplomatic relations with other countries all over the world, especially with superpowers and Southeast Asian nations. With the optimism in ASEAN, Cambodia took its first promising adventure in the ASEAN when it was highly invited to be the distinguished guest in the 26th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore on July 23-24, 1993. ASEAN, at that time, willingly wanted Cambodia to be its member in order to reach the whole regional collective cooperation for maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in Southeast Asia before the forthcoming 21st century. In the position of chairman of the meeting, Singaporean Minister of International Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, said that ASEAN would provide Cambodia with the hope of reconstruction of peace, security, and political stability which would tighten the good relations between Cambodia and ASEAN (Nareth, 2007). Therefore, explicitly, Cambodia was the main target for ASEAN. And again, Cambodia was honorably invited by ASEAN as the distinguished guest for the 27th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. During that essential meeting, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norodom Sirivudh, made a speech that Cambodia, according to the geography, was situated in Southeast Asia and that Cambodia highly admired the ASEAN’s accomplishment including political, economic, and socio-cultural development during the previous two decades (Nareth, 2007). For this reason, Cambodia showed its purpose of obtaining the status of ASEAN observer. In early December 1994, ASEAN Secretary-General, Dato Ajit Singh, accompanied with his delegates had an official visit to Cambodia in order to assist Cambodia in filling formal application as well as in getting aware of the ASEAN mechanisms and to provide Cambodia with other technical assistance before Cambodia became the ASEAN observer.

On January 24, 1995, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ung Huot, signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Consequently, Cambodia was appointed as the formal ASEAN observer. This status was more or less the positive opportunity for Cambodia to access to the full membership of ASEAN so that Cambodia could pave the way for the development, modernization, and globalization. This could also give Cambodia a space to integrate itself with other non-ASEAN members for durable peace and economic development in the context of global governance. A few weeks after the 27th AMM meeting, Cambodia National Assembly ratified TAC. Consequently, Cambodia became the ASEAN observer. In the 28th AMM meeting, Cambodia as the observer played the role in observing the ASEAN activities and capacities before Cambodia decided to become ASEAN full member.

In May 1996, Malaysian Foreign Minister, Abdullah Badawi, warned the co-Prime Ministers against an escalation of tension which could delay Cambodia’s entry into ASEAN. This was followed with a strong message from Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok who, during a November trip to Phnom Penh, stressed the link between political stability and increased foreign investment (Sorpong, 1998). However, although tensions continued to mount, ASEAN decided in early 1997 to admit Cambodia, along with Myanmar and Laos, at its forthcoming 23 July annual meeting. Unfortunately, the internal political instability caused by the co-Prime Ministers on July 6, 1997 led to the deterioration and final collapse of national reconciliation. Nonetheless, Cambodia was not totally ignored, and ASEAN still wanted Cambodia to be its member before the upcoming 21st century. But to be eligible, Cambodia had to fulfill some membership criteria: the internal political stability, respectful human rights and democracy, the free and fair election on July 26, 1998, and the government formation through the genuine election. In order to assist Cambodia in fulfillment of those criteria as well as in putting an end to the fighting, ASEAN established ASEAN Troika consisting of three Ministers of Foreign Affairs from ASEAN members: Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Although Troika was not completely successful, it minimized the tensions by the means of conducting political consultations between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh with the aim of bringing back the internal stability to Cambodia. Meanwhile, Cambodia also welcomed The Friends of Cambodia consisting of the United States, European Union, Japan, China, Russia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in order to find suitable solutions for Cambodia to deal with its political issue. After the national election in 1998, ASEAN and other countries put immense pressure on opposition leaders Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy to form a coalition government with Hun Sen (Sorpong, 1998) because this would grant Cambodia international legitimacy again and open the way for it to become a full member of ASEAN.

Seeing that Cambodia met the criteria, ASEAN warmly welcomed Cambodia to be its 10th youngest member on April 30, 1999 in Hanoi, Vietnam, and strongly hoped that Cambodia’s membership more or less contributed to peaceful, security, and development in Southeast Asia and in the globe at large.

III. Advantages of Cambodia’s Membership

There is no doubt that the ASEAN membership brings Cambodia critical and promising opportunity to polish its reputation in global context, enhance human rights, and trace economic and tourism development.

Reputation Construction in Global Context

After being the ASEAN’s member, Cambodia has been recognized gradually in the global context and been invited to participate in more than 300 regional meetings annually (Nareth, 2007), ASEAN Regional Forum, and other global conferences as well as meetings so as to take part in dispute settlement and in maintenance of peace and security in global governance based on ASEAN treaties and international law. Cambodia’s reputation or prestige in the global context not only constitutes an important determinant strengthening Cambodia’s capacity in healing of the wounds of wars and in its nation-building efforts but also contributes to the ASEAN’s common cause of strengthening peace and fostering cooperation for progress and prosperity of ASEAN (Kao, 2000). Also, this more or less could bring Cambodia to meet its national interests and avoid external threats to its security. Undoubtedly, Cambodia phases out its past and tightens its diplomatic relations with the international community to build the confidence for the sake of foreign aids and investments. In short, Cambodia’s membership is a catalyst for Cambodia’s reputation leading to stability and development.

Enhancement of Human Resources

Besides, Cambodia’s ASEAN membership contributes to the increase in human resources. During the last decade, Cambodia has greatly developed its human resources through exchanging knowledge, experiences, sciences, and technologies with other ASEAN members. For instance, Cambodian government officials have been sent to participate in various visits, study tours, workshops, and seminars involving ASEAN affairs both locally and abroad, and some officials are sent to attachments to the some ASEAN Secretariat and in-country training on various topics related to ASEAN, English language skills, negotiations, and international relations (Kao & Jeffrey, 1988). Similarly, Cambodian students have been granted with full scholarships to pursue high education in ASEAN countries and ASEAN dialogue partners. What is more, Cambodian youths are provided with many academic opportunities to join many ASEAN activities such as ASEAN Varsities’ Debate, AUN Education Forum, AUN Youth Speaking Contest, and so on for improving students’ knowledge on various aspects related to ASEAN and global issues.

Tourism Development

In addition, Cambodia can remarkably develop its tourism sector. With its natural resorts and ancient temples as well as its political stability in regional and global context, Cambodia attracts more foreign tourists. Most recently, Cambodia has welcomed a large number of international visitors mostly from Vietnam and from ASEAN dialogue partners such as South Korea, China, and Japan. Besides, the tourism development is much relevant to the increase in local jobs opportunities. Based on the study by Hing Thoraxy, the tourism contributed to 100,000 jobs and earned US$ 777 million in the local economy in 2004, and this figure was up around US$ 1.4 billion in 2005 (Hing, 2003).

Economic Development

More importantly, Cambodia’s membership is very important for its economic development. According to Cambodian P.M. Hun Sen, Cambodia recognizes the world trend toward economic interdependence and globalization and takes benefits when Cambodia has entered the regional association as full-pledge member (Kao & Jeffrey, 1988). Sure enough, Cambodia has greatly benefited for its economic development since its membership, regulations, and political stability have enhanced foreign direct investors’ confidence to safely invest in Cambodia. Furthermore, based on the AFTA/CEPT scheme, Cambodia is able to attract more regional foreign investors due to the requirement of reducing import tariffs and removing non-tariff barriers such as quotas and licenses. According to the 2005 survey by NIS and Ministry of Planning, the economic growth average was 7.0% from 1993 to 1996, and it dropped to 5.0% in 1997 due to the internal political instability. Until 1999, economic growth reached its peak 12.6% (Hing, 2003). Consequently, Cambodia enjoys its economic growth, provides more jobs for its peoples, and strengthens its production capacity in the regional and global markets.

IV. Disadvantages of Cambodia’s Membership

On the one hand, ASEAN membership is optimistically regarded as Cambodia’s critical path toward development and modernization. On the other hand, it provides Cambodia some challenges in terms of the ASEAN principle, transnational crimes, and regional market competition since Cambodia has limited human resources as well as low productivities in the region.

Human Resource Limitation and Economic Challenges

After Khmer Rouge regime, nearly two million Cambodians including intellectuals, skilled workers, and ordinary people were killed and died of diseases and starvation (Scheffer, 2010). Also, the civil wars still existed for another decade long. Consequently, Cambodia has lacked human resources which are catalysts for development and modernization. Moreover, compared to ASEAN members’, Cambodia human resources are still vulnerable and have a certain, specific limitation for regional economic competition. Simply put, lack of human resources leads to lack of skilled labor forces and technological advancement. Additionally, Cambodia’s ratification of AFTA/CEPT reduces tariffs among ASEAN members. As a result, Cambodia loses import taxes and faces the trade deficit which refers to more imports than exports in the ASEAN market.

Transnational Crimes

Since the emergence of ASEAN, its member states have gradually integrated to form a single community in Southeast Asian region. The integration of states more or less leads to the minimization or even elimination of barriers created by different national jurisdiction (Wolf, 2001). For that reason, transnational crimes occur inevitably across borders in the region. For sure, Cambodia, a weak law-practiced state, has suffered much from the transnational crimes such as sexual tourisms, illicit drug trafficking, and trafficking in person. For instance, in the 2008 report of UNHCR, Cambodia is an important transit, source, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor in Southeast Asia (UNHCR, 2009). Also, in the economic Golden Triangle, drugs are trafficked from Burma to Cambodia and other neighboring states, threatening regional stability, security, and resilience (Othman, 2001).

ASEAN Principle of Non-interference

In addition, ASEAN principle of non-interference is also another challenge. Since 2008, the tension of border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand is in the question whether ASEAN is a dynamic, effective association to put an end to this regional conflict. With the principle of non-interference, ASEAN has been found as the failed arena for resolving a simmering Khmer-Thai border dispute at the 2008 ASEAN Summit (Vannarith, 2009). At the Summit, Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Namhong, asked the Singaporean chair of ASEAN to establish a regional, inter-ministerial group to assist in finding a peaceful solution to the bilateral dispute between Cambodia and Thailand and to prevent military confrontation from occurring. ASEAN, however, encouraged Cambodia and Thailand to use a bilateral mechanism to solve their disagreements due to the principle of non-interference. Remarkably, so far the bilateral negotiations have produced no result, and Cambodia has gotten stuck to reach an agreement on its border since the negotiations with Thailand cannot successfully move forward without intervention. Therefore, a third party, ASEAN, is needed as the mediator to take assertive action and help bring these two disputed countries to reach an agreement based on peaceful resolution, so the ASEAN’s principle of non-interference should be modified to meet this and other new challenges in the region. In sum, the ASEAN principle of non-interference is still the challenge for Cambodia and other member states to maintain durable peace and stability in the region.

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