Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was delighted to be the first German president to visit Cambodia and to get to know the heart and soul of the nation, while also expressing pleasure with German-Cambodian cultural cooperation to preserve the Kingdom’s temples over the past quarter-century.
Steinmeier also praised Prime Minister Hun Sen for leading Cambodia “from scratch” and steering the country through the Covid-19 crisis, according to the premier’s personal assistant Eang Sophalleth, following their February 15 meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.
Steinmeier and his wife Elke Budenbender touched down in Siem Reap province on February 14, where they observed mine clearance activities and pledged to help Cambodia achieve its mine-free 2025 goal.
The German leader said he was pleased with German-Cambodian cultural cooperation to preserve the Kingdom’s temples and indicated that work will continue.
“[Steinmeier] complimented [Hun Sen] for heading the country starting from scratch, reducing poverty, bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control and reopening the country to socio-economic activity,” Sophalleth stated.
At the meeting, Steinmeier briefed Hun Sen on Germany’s ambitions to combat climate change and its intention to develop and strengthen cooperation with Cambodia.
Hun Sen thanked Steinmeier and the people of Germany for their contributions to humanitarian assistance in demining action, culture and other areas.
“The prime minister briefed the German president on Cambodia’s intention to completely clear all landmines by 2025 and to help some countries with mine clearance, under the UN umbrella. Cambodia has also trained Ukrainian officers in mine clearance as part of its humanitarian work to ensure that hidden enemies do not cause problems for the innocent,” Sophalleth said.
The premier noted that Cambodia has a lot of temples on the world heritage list, which makes the Kingdom very proud though it is also a painstaking task to restore and preserve them.
“In this sense, [Hun Sen] expressed his satisfaction with Germany’s assistance over the past 25 years and said he was pleased to foster cooperation on climate change, energy and especially investments and trade between the two countries,” Sophalleth continued.
Senate president Say Chhum, who is acting as Head of State while King Norodom Sihamoni is in China for a medical check-up, thanked the German government for providing Cambodia with assistance since 1994 covering education, health, social protection, sustainable development, governance , culture, poverty reduction and mine clearance.
“The great support of the German government has contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of Cambodia and allowed it to grow further,” he said.
Speaking to Say Chhum, Steinmeier said he was delighted to be the first German president to visit Cambodia and that he had the opportunity to get to know the heart and soul of the nation.
“Yesterday [February 14], my wife and I visited the temples that are impressive testimonies to the Angkor Empire. Overwhelming, majestic, inspiring – those were my first impressions.
“Germany has been supporting the preservation of the temple complex for 25 years. Together with restorers trained by a German team, I admired the almost 900-year-old sandstone reliefs,” he said.
He also praised Cambodia for its mine clearance know-how, saying Germany has been supporting the clearance efforts for almost 25 years and will continue to provide assistance.
“I was deeply impressed that you are passing on your expertise, gained under such tragic circumstances, to other countries which, unfortunately, now need it. Cambodia has already trained Ukrainian deminers in this country and you will also train Ukrainians in Poland,” he said.
He also praised Cambodia for a firm stance against Russia’s invasion in Ukraine through its sponsorship and affirmative votes for the UN resolutions condemning the aggression.
“You positioned your country on the side of international law and international cooperation. I, too, firmly believe that especially in times of war, we need reliable regional and international partnerships,” he said, while also indicating that Germany and Cambodia will be further expanding their partnership.
Political researcher Vann Bunna said that this visit’s positive outcome showed an increased influence in the world from Cambodia’s diplomatic policy.
“This visit shows the effectiveness of diversifying Cambodia’s diplomacy. It means that Cambodia has tried to make more friends and improved relations with various countries, in addition to its existing relations,” he said.