Phnom Penh (FN), Apr. 29 — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is a leader who never minces his words, often speaking straight from the heart.

At the recent ASEAN special leaders’ meeting Jakarta, it was Hun Sen’s passionate impromptu round-up of ASEAN’s continuous assistance to Cambodia that has helped to influence Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing to cooperate with and agree with the ASEAN demands.

According to two highly informed sources in Jakarta and Bangkok, at the meeting’s second session, attended only by leaders and their foreign ministers, Hun Sen related how ASEAN, as a regional organisation, has helped Cambodia through thick and thin to become what it is today.

He told his ASEAN colleagues about Cambodia’s win-win policies and the success to which ASEAN contributed, helping Cambodia even though the country was not yet a member.

ASEAN played an important role in bringing peace to Cambodia after more than 13 years of civil war (1979-1992 ). Together with the UN, the bloc assisted in the electoral process and humanitarian assistance that has transformed the war-torn country into a little tiger’s economy at the present time.

Hun Sen, who was the second leader to speak after Sultan Bolkiah’s brief opening remarks, bended his head to the left towards Aung Hlaing who was at the other end and stressing that Myanmar should allow ASEAN to help because Cambodia’s experience with ASEAN has been very good.

Among the former Indochinese countries, Cambodia was the last country to be admitted to ASEAN in October 1999. Vietnam was first to join the bloc in 1995, followed by Laos and Myanmar in 1997.

The prime minister also expressed appreciation to the late Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Thai foreign minister and the Secretary General of ASEAN for his leadership in helping Cambodia and also Myanmar during Cyclone Nargis.

During his presentation, he did not read his prepared speech at all, according to one of the sources. He said that Hun Sen really showed genuine appreciation for ASEAN’s contribution to the peace and stability in the region and in his country three decades ago.

«He urged Myanmar to allow Asean to help,» said the source, who asked not be identified as he was not authorised.

The sources pointed out that Hun Sen’s comment on ASEAN was very positive and quite contrary to the perception that Cambodia does not care about ASEAN.

In 2012, under former foreign minister Hor Namhong, who served as the ASEAN chair, he refused to issue the ASEAN Joint Communique at the end of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting due to a disagreement over the wording on the conflict in South China Sea.

However, ASEAN later came out with a separate statement on the maritime conflict, reiterating the traditional ASEAN positions.

But the damage has been done. Political analysts and pundits were on the attack, alleging that Cambodia was a spoiler of ASEAN.

However, the Bangkok-based source observed that Hun Sen’s comment on ASEAN at the summit indicates a new benchmark and a different attitude toward the bloc. «It is clear, you know, deep in Samdech Techo’s heart, he cares about ASEAN a lot» said the source, who also has an intimate knowledge of the Cambodian peace process in the 1990s.

Cambodia will be the incoming chair of ASEAN, which will informally begin on 29 October, when Brunei hands over the chairmanship to Thailand’s eastern neighbour at Cambodia following the ASEAN and related summits which will be held between 26-28 October.

Phnom Penh will host the virtual Asia Europe Meeting in the last quarter of this year. It was delayed due to COVID19 pandemic.

In the meeting, he also touched on the need to further intensify ASEAN governments’ efforts to fulfill the ASEAN Community Building targets despite the disruption caused by COVID19.

He also underscored the significance of partnerships between ASEAN and external partners and supported the enhancement and expansion of ASEAN external dialogue relations.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a renown Bangkok bases retired journalist and political and security analyst.