With the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings drawing to a close on November 13, more details of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s various bilateral sidelines meetings with other world leaders are emerging.
The Post has summarised what is known about the meetings based on sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as well as the official social media chanels of Cambodian government and political figures.
The Kingdom and the sultanate celebrated their 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. The meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on November 14 saw the two leaders express a strong commitment to reinforcing ties of friendship and enhancing bilateral cooperation in areas such as defence and security, trade and investment, energy, education and human resource development, culture, tourism, ICT and public health.
Hun Sen and Sultan Hassanal witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two governments which would establish a framework for deepening bilateral relations and broadening cooperation.
Both leaders agreed to expand cooperation in emerging areas of interest such as the green and digital economies and to promote closer people-to-people contact through the enhancement of education and human resource development, tourism and cultural cooperation as well as taking measures to ensure air and maritime connectivity between the two countries.
Hun Sen and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met for bilateral talks on November 13 and afterwards expressed satisfaction with their nations’ longstanding relationship of friendship and cooperation.
Hun Sen thanked New Zealand for its important contribution to the peace process in Cambodia in the early 1990’s and their continued assistance for Cambodia’s socio-economic development, including in the fields of education, agriculture, renewable energy and demining.
Hun Sen called for stronger business links and increased exports of Cambodian rice to New Zealand. He also urged more investment from New Zealand in the agro-industry including the building of rice milling operations and he said he appreciated their contribution to human resource development in Cambodia, such as scholarships for government officials and students.
Hun Sen and Ardern also touched on the renovations at Ream Naval Base, to which Hun Sen reiterated Cambodia’s firm adherence to its constitution, which does not permit foreign military bases or even military presence on Cambodian soil.
“He underlined that the renovation of Ream Naval Base served solely to strengthen the country’s naval capacities to protect its maritime integrity,” said the press statement of the foreign ministry.
Additionally, Hun Sen told his New Zealand counterpart about Cambodia’s position against any and all threats to use nuclear weapons and its position supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Hun Sen commended Canada’s active role in Cambodia’s peace and development process, including in mine clearance, and called on Canada to continue its support to help the Kingdom achieve its goal of a “Mine-Free Cambodia by 2025”.
“We discussed de-mining efforts in Cambodia and around the world, and Canada’s commitment to working with our Indo-Pacific partners,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted afterwards.
Canada agreed to provide $240,000 to support a training project that will build on longstanding Canadian assistance to Cambodia in the field of demining.
Trudeau thanked Hun Sen for his leadership and initiative in assisting Ukraine and for upholding Cambodia’s principled position on crisis, according to the press statement of the foreign ministry.
Trudeau also visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum during his free time at the summit and shared his thoughts about it afterwards.
“We must never forget the Cambodian Genocide, and we must never allow such atrocities to happen again. Today, we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh – to pay our respects to the victims and to reiterate Canada’s commitment to peace and human rights,” he tweeted.
Hun Sen and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced an upgrade to their diplomatic relation to the level of “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.
Hun Sen said he valued Japan’s major contributions to development in Cambodia and Japan’s assistance with election reforms.
Both leaders singed cooperation documents and statements to commemorate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, to be celebrated next year.
On November 12, the Japanese government provided $51.3 million to Cambodia for the implementation of four major projects: Building a mine action training centre, socio-economic development, a project to manage medical waste and an expansion of the water supply system to Prek village in the capital.
Cambodia-Republic of Korea
Hun Sen and Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol hailed the economic cooperation and increasing trade between their countries. They expressed optimism that the free trade agreement that will enter into force early next month will increase significantly the volume of bilateral trade.
Yoon was optimistic that the Double Taxation Agreement, which was to be implemented in January of this year, will boost more Korean investment to Cambodia.
Last year, Hun Sen requested that South Korea help build a Cambodia-Republic of Korea Friendship Bridge linking Phnom Penh to Kandal province in Khsach Kandal district and at their meeting he reiterated this call and asked Yoon to build the bridge as a symbol of Cambodian and Korean friendship.
“President Yoon underlined his support for increasing ROK’s Official Development Assistance to Cambodia and expressed his hope that the Friendship Bridge project will be carried out smoothly and will become the ROK’s biggest cooperation project ever in Cambodia,” the foreign ministry statement said.
Hun Sen also thanked Korea for employing Cambodian workers with legal work visas each year because they not only send remittances to their families, they also often return with a better understanding of technology and ideas to start their own businesses at home.
Hun Sen meet with Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on November 12. They spoke highly of the growing relations and cooperation in all areas between the two countries and discussed efforts to further strengthen and deepen bilateral cooperation, including in the area of gold mine exploration.
Anthony Albanese commended the government of Cambodia for the successful prevention and control of the spread of Covid-19 in the Kingdom.
Hun Sen appreciated the Australian government for its contribution to the peace process in Cambodia and continued assistance to the socio-economic development of Cambodia through the provision of aid.
Hun Sen meet with India’s Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankha on November 12 and reiterated Cambodia’s support for India to become a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council.
Hun Sen noted that India was the first democratic country to recognise Cambodia after the liberation of the country from the Khmer Rouge and he recalled his first visit to India in 1981, which opened the modern era of their diplomatic relations.
The meeting confirmed that King Norodom Sihamoni plans to visit India next year, while Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), will visit India this year on behalf of his father to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Cambodia-India diplomatic relations and to further strengthen bilateral ties.
Hun Sen thanked India for its assistance across all development sectors and in the work of conserving the ancient heritage of the Kingdom through temple restoration projects. Hun Sen and Dhanka witnessed the signing of MoUs outlining cooperation on education, the environment, public health and cultural heritage at their meeting.
Hun Sen said at his November 13 press conference that China agreed to provide a loan to build a bridge in Kratie province and a road linking the province to Kampong Thom.
On November 10, China’s Premier Li Keqiang said that Cambodia-China relations and cooperation had been ongoing for more than a thousand years and that China will continue to support the preservation of the temples of Cambodia.
During his visit, Li also inspected the work being done by Chinese technicians on the Takeo Temple Restoration Project in Siem Reap province.
Cambodia reaffirmed its “resolute adherence” to the “One China” policy and opposition to any actions or remarks undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including any form of separatist activities seeking Taiwanese independence or external interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states under any pretext.
Both sides agreed to designate 2023 as the “Year of Cambodia-China Friendship” and they will jointly hold a series of celebratory events to enhance mutual understanding and friendship. The two countries will also enhance military cooperation and cooperation on combating human trafficking and telecom fraud, among others.
US President Joe Biden thanked the Cambodian government for reaffirming its strong opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by co-sponsoring two UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions condemning the aggression.
Earlier at the summit, Ukraine’s foreign minister was on hand to sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and Cambodian demining experts are set to travel to Ukraine in December to begin training local deminers there. Both moves were met with strong approval by the US.
Biden congratulated Cambodia for its great success in hosting the summit and chairing ASEAN this year and he said that he valued Cambodia’s key support for elevating ASEAN-US relations to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” level during its chairmanship.
“The two leaders touched on their nations’ ongoing cooperative activities, including in law enforcement to combat transnational crime and the return of stolen Cambodian cultural artefacts, demining operations, UN peacekeeping missions and the environment, including climate change,” said a press statement by the foreign ministry.
Hun Sen expressly thanked the US for its determined efforts at returning looted artefacts to Cambodia, noting that it is the “number one” country globally for helping repatriate items looted from the Kingdom.
He also called for more US contributions to help Cambodia achieve its goal of a “Mine-Free Cambodia by 2025”.
Regarding the forced repatriation of Cambodians who formerly had refugee status in the US, often since childhood, but as adults were convicted of a crime which resulted in their deportation to the Kingdom, Hun Sen said that he considers it a humanitarian and compassionate gesture to accept the returnees and give them a second chance and that Cambodia would continue to abide by the existing MoU on the subject signed in 2002.
Hun Sen also stressed Cambodia’s firm position against the use or the threat of using nuclear weapons, sometimes referred to as nuclear blackmail. In recent months as Russia’s invasion has faltered it has resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling against Ukraine, a move that recently drew a statement of rebuke from China as well.