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Cambodian Delegates Attending India-ASEAN Youth Summit, 14th-19th August 2017, Bhopal

Eight delegates from Cambodia and five Cambodian students in India; second from left Chan Uddom, MA, Bananas Hindu University, Long Kimkhorn, assistant to the Chairperson of the 7th Commission of the National Assembly (CNRP); Path Steven Kiriwuth, founder and chief executive officer of angkorone.com; Kim Rithy, vice governor of Kandal province; Eng Kok-Thay, former deputy director at the Document Centre of Cambodia; Oknha Sear Rithy, Chairman of WorldBridge Group; Ven. Nuon Rith, BA, BHU; Hun Manny, President of the Asian Youth Council; Hing Soksan, deputy secretary general of the National Assembly (CNRP); Ven. Lun Chamnan, PhD candidate, BHU; Dav Ansan, advisor to Samdech Akka Maha Ponhea Chakri HENG SAMRIN, President of the National Assembly; Khath Bunthorn, PhD candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Cheav Vannak, BA, BHU; 14/08/2017.

India and ASEAN relations have reached another milestone as reflected in the five-day-long India-ASEAN Youth Summit at Bhopal, organised by India Foundation in cooperation with the government of Madhya Pradesh and Ministry of External Affairs to celebrate the 25th India-ASEAN Partnership and the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence. It shows a new element has been incorporated in India’s Act East Policy–the upgrade of Look East Policy–aptly initiated by Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. 3Cs, connectivity, culture and commerce, have become the pillars of his Act East Policy.

The Summit presented various interesting sessions and activities from motivational lecture to country presentations and sightseeing trips and from parallel group discussions on innovation and entrepreneurship, digital and IT connectivity, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and politics and governance to speeches by invited speakers covered a wide range of issues and valedictory addresses by the chief guest and distinguished guests of honour.

The Summit included 200 delegates, participates, and key speakers from India and ASEAN member countries of different backgrounds and positions. It provided me with a valuable learning experience. For instance, it was a great opportunity to gather together, interact and exchange ideas and views during summit sessions, sightseeing trips, coffee breaks and dining times. Consequently, I have known a number of academics and professionals from different countries who have similar research interests such as India-ASEAN relations, and politics and governance. Special invitation to dinner at Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister house was a great honour. On this occasion, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan also felicitated Captain of Indian Women Cricket team Smt. Sushri Mitali Raj who, he said, is an icon of women empowerment.

My particular interest was the interaction with Members of Parliament on Government and Politics. Three MPs, namely, Shri Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, Lok Sabha (Odisha), Dr Subhash Chandra, Rajya Sabha (Haryana), and Shri Conrad Sangma, Lok Sabha (Meghalaya), together with the chair of the session Shri Ram Madhav, Director, India Foundation and National General Secretary, BJP, shared their valuable experience and advise on politics especially on how to be a good politician. All seemed to agree that a good politician is one who knows how to serve his people, who delivers good governance to the people, and who has the best quality to change the opinion of the people.

I had a question in mind regarding youth and politics that I could not ask due to time out. The thing is that Cambodian youth have fear for their safety to participate in political activities or in other words to become politicians because there is a negative saying that to be a politician one should have been ready to face ‘imprisonment, self-imposed exile, or assassination.’ However, I got the answer when Shri Sangma finally advised that sometimes politician has to take the risk.
Cambodian Delegation and Chief Gusts (front line, left: Indian Minister of Foreign External Affairs Smth Sushma Swaraj), at the Closing Ceremony of the India-ASEAN Youth Summit, Bhopal, 19/08/2017.

Cambodian Delegation

It is important to note that India invited two opposition representatives (Cambodian National Rescue Party or CNRP), Mr Long Kimkhorn, assistant to the chairperson of the 7th Commission of the National Assembly, and Mr Hing Soksan, deputy secretary general of the National Assembly, among the eight delegates from Cambodia, to the Summit which was a rare case. Mr Hun Many, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, president of the Asia Youth Council, and also Member of Parliament (Kompong Speu), and Mr Dav Ansan, advisor to Samdech Akka Maha Ponhea Chakri HENG SAMRIN, president of the National Assembly, were the two representatives of Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

According to Mr Soksan, the invitation to him and his partner was due to his personal link to the former Indian ambassador to Phnom Phnom Mr Dinesh K. Patnaik (2012-2015) which passed on to his successors. I happened to learn that he (Dinesh K. Patnaik) had this idea of putting together the opposition party and the ruling party in representing Cambodia abroad in the 2013 political standoff after the general election. That time, he wanted to invite both parties to speak at the Indian parliament but failed to reach the agreement from the ruling party.

India is the world’s largest democracy and also a strong votary of democratic values and ethics. It has joined global initiatives like the Community of Democracy (2000) and the UN Democracy Fund (2005) for promoting and protecting democracy in other countries. Therefore, India’s invitation to the Cambodian opposition party to the Summit is just a reflection of the democratic dimension of India’s foreign policy. On the other hand, the growing popularity of CNRP in Cambodian politics could also draw more attention from India’s foreign policy thinkers.

Regardless of their political differences, together, Cambodia delegates were very well representing Cambodia on an international stage. They are potential youth leaders filled with aspiration and dynamism. Mr Steven presented the country profile to the audience in which he emphasised on potential of Cambodia’s geographical location in the centre of Southeast Asia for trade and investment. He continued to be a proactive participant throughout the sessions. 

Due to his busy schedule at home, Mr Many left the Summit on the second day, the evening of 15th August. He took the opportunity to express his thanks to the organisers and extended his support for the Summit. 

Mr Kimkhorn, a man of many questions, stood up and spoke out on many occasions. In the early day, he also gave a brief interview to local media, All India Radio, about his first impression of Bhopal. Frankly, he expressed that Bhopal is still underdeveloped yet has the potential to grow in the near future. 

The delegates actively discussed the draft of the declaration and made remarkable inputs to it. Mr Rithy, on behalf of Cambodian delegates, presented the declaration remarks which draw a big applaud from the audience.

Besides the delegates from Cambodia, there were five Cambodian students in India who also participated in the Summit with a special invitation from WOSY–Banaras Chapter, a BJP affiliated international youth organisation, namely, Khath Bunthorn, PhD candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Ven. Lun Chamnan, PhD candidate, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Chan Uddom, MA, BHU, Ven. Nuon Rith, BA, BHU, and Cheav Vannak, BA, BHU.

His Excellency Pichkhun Panha, Royal Ambassador of Cambodia to New Delhi, Mr Ken Sophearith, Counsellor and Deputy Chief of Mission at Royal Embassy of Cambodia in New Delhi, and other ASEAN ambassadors and dignitaries also attended the closing session. H.E. Pichkhun Panha extended his warmest welcome to Cambodian delegates and students at the Summit.
From left Mr Uddom, Mr Vannak, Ven. Rith, Mr Steven, H.E. Pichkhun Panha, Ven. Chamnan, and Mr Bunthorn, Bhopal, 18/08/2017.

Looking Forward

The fascinating part of the final day is that, in her valedictory address at the final session, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister, quoted the Buddha’s message of peace, “there is no higher bliss than peace,” and said that “Youth are agents of change and critical actors in preventing conflict and building peace.” She beautifully added that it is Buddhism and Ramayana that connect ASEAN to India.

At the Summit, no doubt, India and ASEAN youth expressed their strong enthusiasm in and supports for, the institutionalisation of the Summit, which reflected in the joint “Bhopal 2017 Declaration at India-ASEAN Youth Summit” itself. As incorporated in the Declaration, Cambodian delegates underlined two specific factors, among other things, for boosting India-ASEAN ties, namely, through establishing direct flights to rest of Southeast Asian countries so as to increase tourism, and through scholarships.

To effectively realise the spirit of the Declaration which included many important factors such as cooperation on culture, tourism, education, connectivity and entrepreneurship, and supports for UN SDGs, the delegates agreed to create an India-ASEAN Youth Council under the aegis of ASEAN Secretariat and emphasised that the India-ASEAN Summit is an action-orientated forum.
India-ASEAN Youth, local sightseeing, Bhopal, 16/08/2017.

Finally, I, on behalf of Cambodian students in India, would like to extend my sincere thanks to WOSY–Banaras Chapter for giving me the opportunity to attend the India-ASEAN Youth Summit 2017 via India Foundation which covered the part of my expenses.

This Summit was very interesting and enriched our experience with aspiration, knowledge, confidence, and especially friendship with the youth of the region. According to my close participatory observation, I strongly believe that the youth filled with enthusiasm, aspiration, and dynamism will develop India and ASEAN ties to a higher plane with shared values and common destiny.

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