Prime Minister Hun Sen signed five deals with his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha during a state visit on Friday and Saturday, aiming to strengthen bilateral ties, ramp up trade and improve the conditions of migrant workers.
The prime ministers agreed to step up border patrols to combat logging, drug and human trafficking and “transnational crimes”.
The two countries will seek to improve trade and transport by opening two checkpoints in Banteay Meanchey province and Sa Kaeo province and promote more border special economic zones. The neighbours also hope to triple bilateral trade by 2020.
A labour cooperation agreement is supposed to protect workers travelling across the border. The Thai side pledged to continue to support labour skills training, while both sides said they want to crack down on trafficking and illegal migration.
“In every conversation [with my Thai counterpart], I have never forgotten to raise issues of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand . . . I had requested of them to take care of our workers and join hands to eliminate human trafficking and labour exploitation,” Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page.
The state news agency AKP said that Thailand has accepted over 500,000 Cambodian workers in 2015. Chum Sounry, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the number of Cambodians who want to work in Thailand is continuing to grow and that workers require protection.
The Labour Ministry was not available for comment on the agreement yesterday.
Yim Sovann, an opposition lawmaker from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said that an agreement is good but the true test will be in implementation. He called on the Cambodian government to hold Thailand strictly accountable on worker treatment.
“The violence against Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand – such as shooting and torture – remains a concern,” said Sovann. “The most important thing is to encourage the Thai government to respect the agreement and implement it properly.”
Thai media have quoted Prayuth as saying that Cambodian-Thai relations have “never been closer”.
Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asian relations, said that it is in both economies’ interest to prevent problems on the border. With tensions, fewer remittances and Thai goods flow into Cambodia.
“Hun Sen is trying to secure a benefit for the economy and for himself,” said Thayer. “He’s gaining a friend in ASEAN through Thailand.”
He added that it was advantageous for both prime ministers to forge a personal alliance, as neither leader is a fan of the opposition in their home turf. If relations continue to improve, that will make it “much more difficult for Cambodian opposition to seek refuge in Thailand. Thailand doesn’t want its opposition to find refuge in Cambodia” either.
Sovann did not comment on the CNRP’s stance on Thailand, and other CNRP spokespeople were not available for comment yesterday.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara