OPINION: Cambodia Going From War to Wealth

AKP Phnom Penh, May 01, 2019 —

Cambodia was known before as the Killing Fields and experienced civil conflict and war for many decades, but this is not the case anymore. Today, Cambodia’s image has changed from its past dark history to a now prosperous nation with a level playing field on all fronts. Cambodia has reached this level not as a result of the hands of God, but due to the remarkable and pioneering efforts of Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Royal Government of Cambodia. Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen has sacrificed himself since day one of the Cambodian conflicts in the 1970s in order to rescue the Cambodian nation and its peoples from bloody hands of Pol Pot and his efforts resulted in the ousting of the Khmer Rouge from power in January 1979.

Many foreigners need to be aware that after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Cambodia faced many difficulties throughout the 1980s. On one hand, the country tried to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge to power, on the other hand, the Cambodian people were rebuilding their nation from scratch.

For a long time, Cambodia was isolated from the outside world as the result of ideological clashes by the superpowers. The international community unfairly sanctioned Cambodia, which had just survived the Khmer Rouge, by placing economic embargos on Cambodia while the west continued to support the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodian seat at the United Nations.

Devastated by conflict and grappling with poverty, Cambodia was victimised by the west and its allies for a ten-year period through the 1980s until the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. Cambodia had hoped that such a peace deal from the United Nations would bring peace and development however unfortunately the U.N. mission (UNTAC) spent nearly US$2 billion and failed to bring peace and development to Cambodia.

In the early 1990’s, the Khmer Rouge continued to terrorise many parts of the country including threatening UNTAC personnel in some parts of the country such as Pailin.

This unfortunate South East Asian nation continued to suffer from the Khmer Rouge’s guerilla warfare long after the U.N. completed its mission in mid-1993. For example, in July 1994, Pol Pot’s fighters ambushed a train in Kampot province which was en route from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and abducted three western tourists. The three tourists, from Australia, the UK and France, were shot dead two months later in a Khmer Rouge controlled region. Such hideous actions proved that the U.N. did not achieve its goal of bringing peace to Cambodia and subsequently the people and the country struggled for many years to settle its internal decade-long conflicts.

However the Win-Win policy championed by Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1998 put an end to the political and military organisation of the Khmer Rouge, which was followed by mass defections of the Khmer Rouge rebels who then joined the Royal Government led by Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen. This Win-Win policy finally brought about real national reconciliation, followed by peace, justice, and development.

Today, the average GDP per Cambodian citizen is more than US$1,560 and this is expected to rise to over US$2,000 by 2023.

On March 29, 2019 at the 18th public-private sector forum, the Prime Minister said that Cambodia had set the target to become a middle income country by 2030 and to become a high income country by 2050. “We need to create jobs and increase income sustainability for the long haul”.

Cambodia is now recognised as having 6th Tiger ranking in Asia. The Kingdom is very much on the investment radar of the region. Over the period from 2014 to 2018, Cambodia approved 959 investment projects worth US$23 billion and created more than 1 million jobs. In the last two months of 2019, Cambodia approved another 73 projects worth US$2.2 billion. In comparison, within the same period in 2018, the government approved 39 projects worth US$327 million.

Cambodia has now achieved an economic growth rate of 7.7 per cent per annum.

Cambodia has approved and introduced industrial policies which have enabled the country to attract more investments, such as automobile assembly plants, electricity plants, cement factories, soft drinks production, solar power installations, medical equipment purchases along with the development of trading centre facilities, and food processing plants. Cambodia has actively sought to develop investment projects in provinces in order to reduce the income gap between people living in rural Cambodia and people in urban areas such as Phnom Penh.

More factories and jobs have been created, especially within the special economic zones where there are now more than 100 factories. There are significant and increasing investments underway in the sectors of construction, banking, and finance.

The construction sector increased by 23 percent in 2018 reaching a value of more than US$5.5 billion. The number of institutions in the banking sector has increased from 86 to 137.

In 2018, tourist arrivals increased 38 percent on 2017 with 6.2 million tourists visiting the Kingdom. Cambodia’s leader has said that the country needs to diversify and significantly expand Cambodian markets overseas. “We have been exporting to other markets apart from EU and USA. I have asked the commerce minister to negotiate with Canada, the UK, China, Japan, and South Korea for free trade agreements from which we can then expand our markets.”

Cambodia has even looked to expand its export markets to Africa. “We should consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade group along with Cambodia’s ongoing and important ASEAN membership. During the summit with South Korean President I talked about free trade and investment,” said the Premier.

“For the UK, amid the BREXIT issues, Cambodia continues to maintain the status quo of a trading partnership with Cambodia. UK Prime Minister Theresa May told me that the UK will continue this status quo with Cambodia. While the criticism continues many do not know what I have discussed with the UK and other leaders,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen as he recalled his past meeting with May.

“We need to attract investments from China, Japan, South Korea, given that the four countries have big industrial bases in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia,” said the Premier.

The Royal Government of Cambodia headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and as a result of free and fair elections and with the majority support of voters, has continued to focus on peace and social stability, for and in the interests, of the nation and her people.

A good example is the Premier’s political principle of inclusiveness and his invitation to political parties who contested in the 2018 general election to join the Supreme Consultative Council in order to work for the interests of the people and nation.

By Ek Tha

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