Hun Many warns of making superpower choice

Hun Many warns of making superpower choice

Urges Asean members to prosper by working together

Asean may have to choose between China and the US one day in dealing with the fast-changing geopolitical landscape, according to Hun Many, president of Commission 7 for Cambodia's National Assembly.

Hun Many, the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said he agrees in this respect with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who made similar comments last week.

However the politician, who also serves as president of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, stopped short of saying which superpower he would pick.

He also played down speculation that he may throw his hat in the ring to lead the country and follow his father's footsteps.

Hun Many also said Asean members should work together with the resources they have to turn the trade tensions between the two superpowers into opportunities for the region.

"It is the elephant in the room in which we cannot deny, that perhaps Asean may one day have to choose between the US and China," he told around attendees of the Bangkok Post International Forum 2018, held at Centara Grand at CentralWorld with the theme of "Asian Transformation: The Changing Landscape" on Wednesday.

"This is something that needs to be considered as it is a part of the changing geopolitical environment in this increasingly polarised world."

His comment came days after his father, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, said there would never be a foreign military base in his country, after it was reported that China had lobbied Cambodia for a naval base in the southwest province of Koh Kong.

China has been investing heavily in Cambodia in recent years through its Belt and Road Initiative. It has also increased its support for Cambodia's armed forces, with Beijing pledging US$100 million (3.3 billion baht) in military aid to the kingdom in June, just before the election that Hun Sen won by a landslide in July.

Hun Many also said that the region should watch out for the expansion of the trade war between US and China, which could "pressure" individual Asean states or even the whole association to choose sides.

"Asean needs to work together for our own sake," he said. "We have to focus primarily on strengthening the Asean Economic Community while addressing all the challenges [posed by the trade war] and turning it into opportunities."

Maybank's Kim Eng Research revealed in October that Southeast Asia is currently experiencing a boom in foreign direct investments, as the intensifying trade war prompts companies to shift their production bases away from China to the region.

About one-third of more than 430 American companies in China are considering moving their production sites, Bloomberg also reported.

"In the same manner as Indonesia's president [Joko Widodo], who quoted The Avengers in one of his speeches, I would like to also share a quote from the Dark Knight -- 'do best with what you have'," he added.

Hun Many said that as a member of a generation that was born right after the Khmer Rouge genocide, the knowledge of the limits of his resources and the implementation of policies that heeds existing structures and process is "very important".

"We cannot start to develop individually, and we shouldn't think of things that we don't have," he said. "We can't think, 'If only we have X like Country Y'."

When asked to choose between the US and China, Hun Many said that it is not a question of "either or" for Cambodia, as the world is "so big and interconnected" that "we can all work along".

Hopefully, Cambodia would not have to choose between the two, he added.

"Cambodia has maintained a level of openness, and because of our past history, we want to make friends and we welcome everyone," he says. "It is not about choosing friends … it is about being practical in terms of what the options are on the table for Cambodia, and we will choose according to the country's best interest."

Aside from his remarks on the trade war, Hun Many kept playing down rumours that he could become the next leader of Cambodia once his father steps down, saying that it is "way too soon".

"At the end of the day, it is up to the people to choose the candidate who they think will be able to fight for their aspirations," he said. "I am a proud son … and regardless of all the evaluations of his [Hun Sen's] leadership, he has consistently defended Cambodia's national interests, as well as the interests of the people."

He said: "In politics, you cannot satisfy everyone", as "building the foundations for peace and stability for the future of the country is also important."

He also ignored critics who said that the previous election in Cambodia was undemocratic, and remarked that democracy exists in many forms.

"Democracy is one important pillar for society to develop, but it is only one pillar among many others," he said.

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