BANGKOK – A custom wristwatch from Cambodian leader Hun Sen at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, a foot-long dagger at the G-20 meetings in Bali, and cricket ice cream and Thai noodles with worm sauce at the APEC talks in Bangkok.
World leaders have a surfeit of swag and surprises awaiting them as they attend back-to-back-to-back summits in Asia starting this week.
Hun Sen raised eyebrows a few weeks ago when he announced that he would be having special-edition watches made for U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, which runs through the weekend. Many speculated the former mid-level Khmer Rouge commander would feature his own mug on the timepiece in the narcissistic vein of autocratic leaders in the past, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
But the final product, which Hun Sen said was designed and made in Cambodia, is a sleek silver timepiece with coppery-gold hands and a leather strap, with “ASEAN Cambodia 2022” imprinted on its face.
Hun Sen did not say what the gift was worth as he unveiled it this week on his Facebook page, but did say he'd be wearing it himself at all three summits — foregoing one of the rare, designer wristwatches in his collection whose $1 million-plus price tags have been a source of grumbling in impoverished Cambodia.
In addition to Biden, many other world leaders who will be receiving the Cambodian watch, including Australia’s Anthony Albanese, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, will travel from Phnom Penh next to the Indonesian island of Bali where there are some traditional trinkets in store for them at the Group of 20 summit.
G-20 organizers this year say the leaders, also expected to include China's Xi Jinping, will be asked to wear colorful shirts made of the traditional Balinese woven fabric endek, similar to those that Indonesia gave out at the 2013 APEC meetings they hosted in which the country revived the on-again, off-again summit tradition of a group photo in what some have dubbed “silly shirts.”
The tradition was started in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, who gave out leather bomber jackets as a memento to leaders in attendance as a way to lighten the mood of the serious economic talks.
In Indonesia, all 120 member and non-member states' representatives attending will also be given shawls made from another Balinese fabric known as gringsing, typically red, off-white and black woven in a geometric pattern.
Leaders will also receive a traditional kris dagger, a distinctive asymmetrical knife usually between 11 and 14 inches long with a wavy blade.
According to organizers, each dagger takes between one and six months to make, and while used as combat weapons in the past they are today typically worn at special ceremonies.
There were no “silly shirts” last year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, held virtually due to the pandemic, with host New Zealand instead providing merino wool scarves for the men and capes for the women.
It looks like Thailand doesn't plan on reviving the shirts this year at the upcoming APEC summit in Bangkok. Instead, organizers say they will be giving leaders silk neckties and shawls, as well as handkerchiefs and face masks.
There is culinary excitement, however, as the country, renowned for its cuisine, brings in Thai food startups selected from a competition to highlight sustainability under a concept dubbed “plate to planet.”
Biden isn't expected to be on hand for the APEC meetings, but Vice President Kamala Harris, Xi and others will be given the opportunity to try out dishes like carb-free ramen noodles made from egg white protein, milk-free ice cream with kale and passion fruit, low-sodium Thai noodles with a sauce made from sandworms, and ice cream made from the protein from crickets, government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri said.
Celebrity chef Chumpol Chaengprai is preparing the gala dinner to cap the event, under the concept of “sustainable Thai gastronomy.” Its menu has not yet been announced.
Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul in Bangkok, Niniek Karmini in Jakarta and Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh contributed to this story.