Editorial: Cambodia Stands On Its Own Playing Several Hands of Cards

AKP Phnom Penh, February 27, 2020 —

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen has navigated his nations ship to peace and development many times since the fall of Khmer Rouge in early 1979. Working as foreign minister in the 1980’s his government faced two challenges; from fighting the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in order to prevent Pol Pot/the Khmer Rouge from returning to power and to commence the rebuilding of a war-torn Southeast Asian nation while the country remained under western-led sanctions which only ended in the early 1990s.

Today, the country faces major two challenges; the deadly virus Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its negative impact on the global economy, and the EU commissions suspended 20 percent of reduction in the trading preferences of the Everything but Arms (EBA) programme and a clear picture will be known in August 2020.

However, the Kingdom of Wonder remains in good shape as peace and stability are now deeply rooted in the mindset of Cambodian society. The Royal Government of Cambodia, under the great leadership and ingenuity of Samdech Techo Prime Minister, continues to improve domestic reforms and develop more friends, both old and new and from near and far, through its friendly open foreign policies.

Speaking on Feb. 24, 2020, at the meeting of the representatives of the Supreme Consultative Council of 17 political parties, the Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen made it clear to his compatriots and to the world that Cambodia can effectively manage the current challenges by addressing domestic issues including social welfare developments, reducing unnecessary spending, seeking ways how to better support workers and factories as well as taking measures to assist the Cambodian tourism sector which is suffering as a result of the negative impact of COVID-19.

To date, no Cambodian has been infected by COVID-19, but the country has been affected economically by the virus as China, responsible for 70 percent of foreign investment in Cambodia, is the main supplier of raw material to factories in Cambodia. The closure of factories in China in order to contain the spread of the virus has hurt Cambodia’s export ability.

Some Chinese airlines have had to suspend flights to Cambodia which has slowed tourism arrivals to the Kingdom.

In 2019, more than 6.6 million tourists arrived in Cambodia of which 2.4 million were Chinese In February 2020, as a result of the virus, tourist arrivals dropped by 60 percent including a 90 percent drop in Chinese visitors.

Cambodia has not asked for aid to support the sectors hit by the virus and the government has therefore sought different approaches to overcome the current challenges by setting some measures in place to secure the ongoing operations of factories where possible and to support workers who lose jobs.

“I ask all investors to have full confidence in the Royal Government. The government is taking measures to help workers including consideration of wage assistance,” announced the Premier, adding that, such a package of support will cover the worker’s partial wages and provide tax exemptions for factories for some months until the economy returns to stability.

With the unexpected changes, Cambodia’s growth which was previously predicted to be more than 6 percent in 2020, may be readjusted due to the impact of the COVID-19 on Cambodia’s export sector, mainly on the garment manufacture and tourism sectors.

The government does not expect any severe impacts as a result of the 20 percent partial suspension of the EBA for Cambodia’s exports to EU market which will cost an estimated US$100 million in additional duty fees. Cambodia has not hesitated in saying that the EU can go ahead and implement its policies however Cambodia will continue to do business as usual.

The Premier Samdech Hun Sen did not and will not ask for understanding from the EU since his government has not made any errors and is only implementing the rule of law, for and in the interests of Cambodia and her people.

“We do not need to trade our sovereignty with the EU due to the suspension of a reduction in the EBA concessions,” he said sarcastically.

Many in the Western world continue to misjudge Samdech Hun Sen who joined with Vietnamese troops to topple the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979 and then subsequently put an end to the Khmer Rouge’s political and military organisation in late 1998 by implementing his win-win policy. Many in the West have wrongly assumed that a partial suspension of the EBA concessions would place Cambodia’s leadership under enormous pressure, however Cambodia has learnt from negative past experiences and understands well what cards to play in order to not only survive but to flourish as a nation.

Cambodia has developed excellent relationships of equal footing on a level playing field with its foreign partners bilaterally and multilaterally. Cambodia is not only very capable of standing on its own, it is also a highly valued contributor to the United Nations by sending more than 5,000 Cambodian peace keeping troops to five nations under the U.N. umbrella.

Cambodia continues to strengthen its independence and sovereignty by diligently implementing its constitutionally endorsed laws in order to maintain the hard-earned peace and security along with continuing to make Cambodia a more attractive destination for tourism and foreign investment.

Referring to the opposition’s crimes committed in the recent past, Samdech Hun Sen stated:

“We will not allow any criminal to walk free. We will not allow people who wish to destroy our nation to walk free,” he said.

“I ask all workers to continue having confidence in the government during the current situation of the partial suspension of reduction of the EBA concessions. The government continues to support workers who have lost jobs with a partial salary payment of up to US$120 a month along with providing skills training opportunities so that they will be better equipped to secure jobs when the difficult situation is over,” he said.

The government will cover 40 percent of factory workers salaries while the factory operator will pay 60 percent so that the employees can retain minimum wage levels. It remains unclear how many workers will be affected out of 700,000 workers nationwide as the result of exports slowdown.

However, Cambodia understands the importance of maintaining excellent diplomatic and trade relations with friends near and far and also with the many new nations who are now working in partnership with Cambodia.

The Premier also said Cambodia’s total exports per year have now reached US$14 billion, including US$4 billion to the EU market and US$10 billion to other markets.

The government will hold a joint 19th Government-Private Sector Forum on April 1, 2020, in Phnom Penh to address any concerns and challenges that may be raised by the private sector.

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen is expected to make new decisions in response to private sector concerns and will act to improve trade and investment facilities.

“The government will find ways to support small and medium enterprises, SMEs, so they can continue their operations and crucial role in the nations ongoing economic development,” said the Premier.

These initiatives, led by Samdech Hun Sen, show how the Cambodian government continues to stand strong against all hurdles and is ready to overcome any obstacles no matter how long it takes. The government successfully resolved more complex problems during the 1980’s and will continue to resolve problems, a task made easier nowadays, given Cambodia’s friendly foreign policies and positive cooperation with nations from all corners of the world.

“Cambodia does not discriminate against any countries or blocs. Cambodia needs China, the US, the EU, and others. I do not pick sides, but work with all in mutual interests,” said Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen.

The Premier will lead a delegation on March 12 to attend the Special US-ASEAN Summit in Las Vegas where he will meet US President Donald Trump on Mar. 14 on the sideline of the summit before he flies to Cuba on March 15 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cambodian-Cuban diplomatic relations.

Such productive plans are part of the Government’s strategy of building friends and mutual interests worldwide as well as being an active contributor towards global peace and international sustainable development.

By Ek Tha

Spokesman of the Council of Ministers Office

(Feb. 25, 2020)