COMMENTARY: Cambodia’s Global Diplomacy

AKP Phnom Penh, May 02, 2019 —  

It is important to note that although peace and development are well underway, Cambodians want to see due justice carried out on those who imposed the horrific and tragic consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime on the nation. This prompted Cambodia’s government to hold complex rounds of torturous negations with the United Nations starting in 1997 with the objective to bring the Khmer Rouge’s leaders to stand trial for the crimes they committed from April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979 during which time more than 2 million Cambodians died from executions, enforced labour, hunger, starvation, and disease.  

The five most senior Khmer Rouge leaders have been tried by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) which was established in 2006, and funded by the U.N., Cambodia and other international donors. The Khmer Rouge trials involved national and international participation along with notable international diplomatic support to Cambodia for the hosting of the trials. 

In late March of 2019, Deputy PM and Defence Minister Tea Banh was in New York at the United Nations, and actively sought to join hands with the international community to protect and develop peace in the world. Should any country wish to impose sanctions against Cambodia; these sanctions will fail as Cambodia is now helping friends in other parts of the world and has become an active and contributing member of the international community.  

The UN has praised Cambodia’s peace keeping forces for its work overseas with the United Nations. Cambodia, despite being a poor nation, is making a significant contribution to the UN international peacekeeping programmes and to date has already dispatched more than 5,000 Cambodian peace-keeping troops to operate under the U.N. umbrella in Sudan, Central Africa, Lebanon, and other nations. 

The Cambodian Premier has received the visits of many heads of state in 2019, including China’s President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and State Counsellor of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi.  

PM Hun Sen also received Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2015, and U.S. President Barack Obama who visited Cambodia in 2012.  

At the regional level of ASEAN, Cambodia shares the view of the ten-country bloc for non-interference in one-another’s domestic affairs. Cambodia is rapidly increasing its friendly bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation with all ASEAN nations. 

The Cambodian Prime Minister has successfully hosted and chaired two ASEAN summits in Phnom Penh in 2002 and 2012.  

ASEAN is recognised as the international diplomatic gateway to the United Nations and international institutions such as Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), UNESCO, and others.  

Cambodia joined the UN in 1955 and hosted the 37th World Heritage Session/UNESCO in 2013 along with hosting the Asian Cultural Council early this year. Each of these events were attended by several hundred international guests from executive and legislative branches. 

Cambodia joined ASEAN in 1999 and is an active member in terms of diplomacy and trade within the ten-country bloc of over 500 million people. This has given Cambodia a greater diplomatic voice and access to a large market, as well as continuing Cambodia’s contribution to peace and development in the region. 

Cambodia has become a key coordinating nation for ASEAN and others in the region. This has assisted Cambodia to not only gain diplomatic support, but has also assisted the growth of trade, investment, and tourism opportunities both bilaterally and multilaterally. 

Cambodia has reached out to many nations in friendship including developing productive diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] and the Republic of Korea [South Korea].  

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has always wished to see both Koreas settle their differences and pave the way for the Korean nations to provide greater benefit to their countries, as well as contributing to peace and development in the region. 

Cambodia regards the EU block of 28 countries as important friends and the current issue of trade preferences of the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) status should not be considered as an obstacle for Cambodia-EU relations given that many countries of EU continue to work bilaterally with Cambodia in many fields.  

However, to offset the EBA, the government continues its reforms and this is not related to the EU’s strategy to remove the EBA from Cambodia as Cambodia clearly recognises the need to reform for greater competitiveness. 

The Prime Minister has stated that the government strongly believes that significant and in-depth reforms will help the country to obtain value added products and “will enable Cambodia to stand on its own without relying on trade preferences”.  

Phnom Penh will host ASEM, an intergovernmental process established in 1996 to foster dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe, in 2020. Key representatives from the EU legislative and executive branches have visited Cambodia on many occasions and are very committed to bilateral cooperation. 

In this regard, if some Western governments are not satisfied with the Cambodian government’s concerns and the authority used in implementing its laws and orders to safeguard peace and achievements, then that is the position of these Western governments only. 

However, the Cambodian nation continues to stand strong on both the national and international diplomatic stages acknowledging that Prime Minister Hun Sen has already built strong ties with the United Nations and ASEAN along with the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with countries near and far; from Asia to Europe, to the Arabic world, and to many other nations.

These are the valuable diplomatic initiatives implemented by the Prime Minister that have enabled Cambodia to achieve rapid and highly successful growth and development in recent years. 

Of significant importance is the growth of a successful relationship between Cambodia and China with China now becoming the major trading partner of Cambodia. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang on April 28, 2019 and the Premier thanked China for seeking ways to support Cambodia in the event of the EU removing the EBA trading scheme from Cambodia. Pressure from the EU using the EBA mechanism is bound to fail as Cambodia’s leadership has strong diplomatic ties with superpowers such as China, Russia and other regional powers in the region including ASEAN and the UN.  

By Ek Tha

Vice-Chairman of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Spokesperson Unit