During the ASEAN Summit and related meetings in Phnom Penh on November 11, Prime Minister Hun Sen met with Zhang Ming, secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to discuss Cambodia’s candidacy and readiness to attain SCO observer status, a step-up from its role as a dialogue partner which the Kingdom has held since 2015.
International observers said expansion into the SCO – a Eurasian intergovernmental organisation currently consisting of eight member states including China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – will strengthen Cambodia’s role in the world order, including in regional and global affairs.
It will also strengthen the multilateralism mechanisms that Cambodia adheres to, as the SCO – founded in 2001 with a focus on regional security issues, fight against regional terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism – serves as a balance to the world’s challenging geopolitical environment.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said that attaining SCO observer status is important for Cambodia to further cement its multilateral principles and security strategies.
“What Cambodia has always practiced in its foreign policy is the principle of multilateralism and adherence to international laws. SCO cooperation is an important multilateral mechanism, with political, security and economic benefits for the Kingdom,” he added.
He highlighted that the SCO has a wide range of member countries, all of which have economic, energy, political and strategic potential that could benefit Cambodia through economic and diplomatic channels, among others.
“As an SCO observer, Cambodia could strengthen its role in regional and global affairs, as the SCO discusses major international issues at the global level. This would lead to the emergence of Cambodia’s voice in regional cooperation,” he added.
Obtaining membership would not be an issue for Cambodia, as the organisation included China, a close friend, as well as other members which already have good relationships with the Kingdom, said Phea.
The SCO was established in Shanghai in 2001 with six original members: China and five former Soviet republics, namely Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The SCO’s main purpose is to cooperate on matters of security and the economy. Members regularly hold joint anti-terrorism exercises and cooperate in sharing security information.
The organisation added India, Pakistan in 2017. In 2021, it approved Iran’s application for accession, with the date for its full membership yet to be confirmed. Its dialogue partners include Turkey, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Cambodia.
According a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hun Sen stated that since becoming a dialogue partner, Cambodia has contributed to promoting ASEAN-SCO cooperation, underlining the Kingdom’s active engagement in different regional and international organisations with the aim of strengthening friendships and maintaining peace, stability and security.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the SCO’s first charter was aimed at security and political cooperation, but in the current geopolitical scope, the organisation plays a large role in the economic matters.
He said the organisation – whose member states account for about 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), cover approximately 60 per cent of the world’s territory and account for about 3.4 billion people, or 43 per cent of the world’s population – has enormous military power, with key members China and Russia being nuclear powers. Other member states including India, Iran and Pakistan are developing nuclear technology, although not in line with UN principles.
“As a sovereign state, Cambodia’s desire to join with this organisation does not denote military ambitions that should disturb the West. It will raise the Kingdom’s profile as a dialogue partner in the region and promote better economic, political, diplomatic and military exchanges,” Peou added, explaining Cambodia’s motivation.