Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn has assured Japan that the Cambodian government has taken all measures to strengthen the democratic and political space, ministry spokesperson Ket Sophann said on Wednesday.
He said Sokhonn gave the assurance to the Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Norikazu Suzuki, who is on a visit to the Kingdom from Wednesday to Friday. Suzuki is also due to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit.
Sokhonn made his remarks when Suzuki paid a courtesy call to the ministry on Wednesday after landing in the Kingdom, said Sophann, who told reporters after the meeting that Suzuki had been welcomed by Sokhonn on his first visit to Cambodia.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs told Suzuki that relations between Cambodia and Japan continued to grow.
He also assured Suzuki that the government had addressed concerns raised by the EU regarding the democratic and political space in Cambodia, Sophann said.
“In strengthening the democratic and political space, Cambodia has fully responded to the concerns of the EU, with measures to strengthen the political space in the Kingdom.
“We all know that Japan supports the democratic process in Cambodia. The Cambodian government has executed consistently and fully all the measures announced, such as legal reforms, rehabilitation for former politicians and the release of political and land activists.
“Permission was also given for the opening of the Voice of America [VOA radio station] office,” Sophann stressed.
He said the meeting had also touched on bilateral cooperation and regional issues.
“Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Norikazu Suzuki exchanged ideas on regional and international affairs, including North Korea and South China Sea issues,” Sophann said.
However, political analyst Em Sovannara said the EU process to withdraw Cambodia’s access to its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement continued because the government had yet to fully implement what the 28-member bloc had demanded.
“Cambodia claims to have done well regarding some principles laid out in the Universal Human Rights Convention.
“But the EU has requested Cambodia to release [Kem Sokha], the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party [CNRP], and drop the charges against more than 100 CNRP political figures.
“These demands have yet to be met. Cambodia has still not fulfilled important conditions, so EBA withdrawal still presents a problem,” Sovannara said.
Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch said the government has implemented a large number of measures laid out to strengthen the democratic and political space in Cambodia.
“We see that the process has gone smoothly. Space is still narrow, but we can see that it has opened extensively,” Touch said.
In February, the EU announced that it had begun the 18-month process of withdrawing the Kingdom’s access to EBA over what it said was “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”.
EBA allows least developing status nations to have duty and tariff-free excess into the EU.
The EU has said Cambodia was the second largest beneficiary of EBA last year, with its goods accounting for more than 18 per cent of all imports into the single market under the agreement.
Exports from Cambodia to the EU totalled €5.3 billion last year, with more than 95 per cent included in the EBA, of which €4 billion ($4.51 billion) was in clothing and textiles.