Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 27 arrived for the state funeral of the slain former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, where he also met European Council chief Charles Michel and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc to discuss issues of common concerns.

The honour of a state funeral – normally reserved for members of Japan’s imperial family only – was extended to Abe in light of his service to Japan as their longest-tenured prime minister in the post-World War II-era and it was attended by foreign dignitaries from around the globe whom Abe had forged ties with while in office.

Hun Sen expressed his condolence as well as deep respect for Abe and sadness at his loss to both his wife and incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

In a social media post after the event, Hun Sen said he always considered Abe to be an outstanding statesman and a dear friend to him and Cambodia as a whole.

He added Abe was a true friend and loyal supporter of Cambodia who made a profound contribution to the promotion of their bilateral relations and always supported development across all sectors of the Kingdom.

He referred to Abe as a long-standing “close friend” who contributed to deepening the partnership between Cambodia and Japan and promoted international cooperation for the mutual benefit of their two countries and peoples.

“His Excellency Shinzo Abe’s generous gestures and sincere sentiments will always be remembered in the hearts of the Cambodian people … May his soul rest in peace,” he said.

According to the post, the state funeral for Abe was attended by roughly 50 heads of state and government as well as former world leaders and other prominent figures for a total of over 700 international dignitaries and 4,500 Japanese guests there to bid farewell to Abe for the last time.

Prime Minister Hun Sen (fourth from left, holding flowers) pays his last respects to former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on September 27. SPM

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the last respects paid by Hun Sen for the late Abe was a heartfelt gesture reflecting the relationship between the two leaders on a person-to-person basis rather than simply being a matter of duty or diplomacy.

“It is only right that Cambodia offers its condolences, pays its respects and expresses its sadness at the loss of such a prominent and well-respected former leader of Japan,” he said.

Separately after the funeral, Hun Sen met with European Council president Charles Michel and the two discussed the war situation in Ukraine, the contentious South China Sea issue and the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, among other topics.

Hun Sen told Michel that he would like to see the parties to the South China Sea dispute continue to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and he reaffirmed his and Cambodia’s commitment to efforts to push for negotiations to issue a mutually agreed upon Code of Conduct (COC) for all parties in the South China Sea in the near future.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the DOC between ASEAN and China in Phnom Penh back in 2002, when Cambodia first chaired the bloc.

“So what [I]would like to see is the continuation of the full implementation of the DOC and [I] would like to emphasise that we are working hard to push for the issuance of the COC in the near future despite the apparent difficulties,” Hun Sen said in his post after the meeting.

Michel said he considered EU-ASEAN relations as greatly important and placed a priority on boosting efforts to find ways to enhance cooperation between the two sides.

Hun Sen invited Michel to visit Cambodia and attend the upcoming East Asia Summit, especially the ASEAN Global Dialogue in the Kingdom as the premier also announced that he will attend the ASEAN-Europe Meeting to commemorate its anniversary in Brussels, Belgium.

In his post, Hun Sen also said that – as the chair of ASEAN this year – Cambodia has faced many challenges due to conflicts in the region and beyond that have had global impacts. Regarding the Myanmar crisis, the prime minister pledged to try to further help the country in the time remaining as ASEAN chair despite the difficulties.

Also on September 27, at a breakfast held for the visiting dignitaries, Hun Sen and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to continue to work towards resolution of the issue of border post placement between the two countries.

In his social media post, Hun Sen quoted Phuc as saying that the leaders of the two countries have worked together in the past to address a number of major issues in ways that serve the interests of both Cambodia and Vietnam and that they managed to boost trade between the two nations despite the Covid-19 crisis. Thus, he was confident that the border post matter would be of no great hindrance to the friendship between them as neighbours.