Editorial: Cambodia’s Diplomatic Foresight Continues to Fly High Amidst the Global Concern of the Coronavirus Spread

AKP Phnom Penh, March 03, 2020 — 

Cambodia’s leaders in particular, Prime Minister Hun Sen, have a great understanding of the many and varied nuances of humanity, having gone through an enormous amount of suffering during the country’s civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.  

The Cambodia’s conflicts and the subsequent rebuilding of the nation has given the Premier a significant and in-depth understanding of the complex processes related to a nation moving from war to peace and wealth, from being hungry to receiving humanitarian assistance, through to developing a burgeoning free market economy with one of the world’s fastest rates of growth.  

Through years of diplomatic efforts, Samdech Techo Prime Minister has interacted, without discrimination, with people from all over the world and he has worked tirelessly with the international community in the spirit of positive cooperation along with celebrating the diversity of mankind.  

The Four-Face of Ancient Khmer Statues of Traprum 

Such Cambodia’s approach and compassion can be explained by understanding the meaning of the four-face of ancient Khmer statues of Taprum, which erected since 9th century, symbolised a welcome to all.  

Welcome to the Kingdom of Wonder(s), the land of love and happiness, that with the Cambodian Premier’s skilled diplomatic foresight, has brought along peace, stability, friendly relations and mutual respect. An example, the Premier’s quick response to warmly greet more than 2,000 passengers and crew members on the MS Westerdam cruise ship last month which was allowed to dock in Cambodia’s deep seaport after being turned away by five countries, including the U.S., as a result of fears that the Coronavirus may have infected passengers on the cruise ship.  

All of the Westerdam passengers and crews have departed safely home from Phnom Penh International Airport after disembarking and spending times in Cambodia. 

Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation (MFAIC) and other ministries worked tirelessly, under the Premier’s guidance, in order to secure the cruise ship to dock as soon as possible as Cambodia understood the suffering of the passengers and crews on board as they traversed the ocean with no country allowing them to dock.  

However, Cambodia showed great compassion to the surprise of many. 

“After Cambodia’s senior minister and minister of public works and transport received a request from the U.S. ambassador on behalf of the MS Westerdam for the cruise ship to dock at Cambodia’s port, I then issued a swift response of welcome to the cruise to dock in Cambodia,” the Premier recalled. 

Samdech Techo Hun Sen spoke at a graduation ceremony on Feb. 18, 2020 in Phnom Penh, “If Cambodia did not allow the cruise to dock in Cambodia, what would have happened to more than 2,000 people? I saw this situation as a humanitarian crisis as they were rejected by one country after another from docking and the food stocks on the cruise were running low”.

“This is not normal. I did not care from what nations they came from but I knew I had to help them. If we had not allowed them to dock and if they were sick, will their bodies be thrown into the sea or what?” he said.  

The compassion, words and positive actions of the Prime Minister have been heard and have received praise from all over the world. 

No to Virus, but Yes to Valentine 

While the world was celebrating Valentine’s Day (love), Cambodia’s leaders were busy dealing with how to get the cruise ship to dock at its seaport in the Southwestern province of Kampong Som which is also known as Sihanoukville. 

“When Cambodia decided to allow the cruise to dock at our seaport, the international community supported us. However, some critics accused us of bringing the virus home,” he recalled.  

“Thus far, no Cambodian has been infected by the virus as a result of my decision to allow the cruise ship to dock. We have worked with Pasteur Institute and World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure the safety and best care for all”.  

“Even if the cruise ship had been infected by the COVID-19, I would have wanted the cruise ship to dock as soon as possible as Cambodia acknowledges and implements humanitarian principles as active members of U.N.” 

“We carry out our international responsibilities accordingly. Our immediate actions allowed us to assist international efforts to contain the virus,” said the Premier.  

It is important to note that Cambodia’s magnificent and immediate efforts after the virus outbreak assisted to save more than 2,000 lives from the Westerdam cruise ship. 

Cambodia’s Response Provides Valuable Lessons on How to Deal with the Virus 

American Ambassador Patrick Murphy and the cruise representatives thanked in person to the Premier for his humanitarian assistance in allowing the cruise ship to dock.  

Cambodia’s prompt humanitarian response has sent a message to the outside world that Cambodia places humanitarian work as one of its highest priorities. 

The Prime Minister is displaying his outstanding leadership skills in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. He even risked his life, by being a friend in need by shaking hands, with a warm caring heart, with the passengers of MS Westerdam.  

Such moves reconfirmed the Premier’s commitment since day one of re-building Cambodia from scratch after risking his life to mobilise forces to topple the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime/ the killing field from power on Jan. 7, 1979. 

As a close friend of China, PM Hun Sen also flew to Beijing on his return from South Korea to show solidarity with his Chinese counterparts and to show that Cambodia never abandons its friends.

The Cambodian delegation landed in Beijing as if there wasn’t a COVID-19 outbreak. The delegation did not put on masks, although they were available, as the Premier wanted to send a strong signal to the outside world that fear should not rule amidst the virus spread.  

PM Hun Sen showed his diplomatic wisdom, saying, “Phnom Penh is not a windbag, as actions speak louder than words”. 

It is not the time to spread fear about the virus, he explained, it is a time to join hands and to work together to contain the virus from spreading using all means possible and to work with all individuals and communities to defeat the COVID-19 that is plaguing the world. 

“We must be brave in fighting the virus and not be in a state of fear. We must keep ourselves and our environment clean as no-one will come to clean for us,” he told the crowd of graduates. 

PM Hun Sen Supports U.S. in Fighting the Virus  

“I support President Donald Trump by taking this opportunity with other ASEAN leaders, to focus on controlling the current situation related to the spread of COVID-19 rather than other issues. America understands also the reality of geo-politics”. 

“I see that U.S. wants to strengthen relations with ASEAN which is the U.S. priority objective,” said the Premier. 

“U.S. President Donald Trump suspended the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit planned for later this month (13 to 14) in Las Vegas as he understood that the ASEAN leaders need to focus on fighting the COVID-19 virus,” he said.  

“U.S. has suspended the Special Summit of U.S.-ASEAN due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, COVID-19 and this postponement is aimed at preventing the spread of the virus COVID-19. The U.S. President has assigned his vice-president Mike Pence to handle the issue of COVID-19”. 

The Premier also said that “there could additional reasons however only the U.S. can elaborate about these, acknowledging that the leaders of three countries of ASEAN, who represent half of the bloc’s population, would not be able to attend.” 

By Ek Tha

Spokesman of the Office of the Council of Ministers