CAMBODIA and South Korea are to establish formal diplomatic relations, a move supported
by both Prime Ministers but which is sure to displease the King.
The decision was made by the Council of Ministers May 9 and announced by Second Prime
Minister Hun Sen, while his co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was in France.
Upon his return, Ranariddh supported the decision, saying it was in line with Cambodia's
move toward joining the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which recognizes
"I think we cannot avoid it. We have to have relations with South Korea,"
said the Prince.
He noted that Cambodia and South Korea would establish diplomatic missions - which
have a lesser status than embassies - in each other's countries. This was a compromise,
for the sake of Cambodia's "special relations" with rival North Korea,
Cambodia's decision on South Korea was welcomed by most observers for economic reasons,
although they agreed its timing was probably political.
King Norodom Sihanouk - who has a long historical link with North Korea - has been
an ardent opponent of Cambodia establishing ties with South Korea.
The King maintains a residence in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and had a close
relationship with the country's now deceased former ruler Kim Il Sung.
The King most recently reiterated his position toward South Korea in October when
he strongly condemned any change in Cambodia's position that there was only one Korea.
He also opposed recognition of Taiwan - which had opened a trade office in Phnom
Penh - and supported Beijing's claim to the island.
Several diplomats and observers interpreted last week's announcement on South Korea
as a direct snub to Sihanouk, because of the tense political situation and the King's
decision to stay abroad.
It also followed a recent embarrassment in Phnom Penh-Pyongyang relations when a
Japanese man, in the company of North Korean Embassy staff who were apparently helping
him, was arrested in Cambodia on international terrorism and counterfeiting charges.
Soon after, the entire North Korean Embassy staff in Phnom Penh was replaced.
Hun Sen announced on national radio May 10 that the Council of Ministers had decided
the previous day to "establish a diplomatic mission in South Korea, which is
an economic and technological superpower, in order to attract capital to develop
South Korea's investment in Vietnam and Laos were $4 billion and $800 million respectively,
Hun Sen said, adding that the Kingdom would benefit from closer ties with Seoul.
He said that it was "very unjust" that South Korea would be able to establish
only a diplomatic mission in Cambodia, while North Korea had full embassy status
in Phnom Penh.
"But due to some historical issues, we decided to establish ties with South
Korea at the level of diplomatic missions," he said in clear reference to the
King's link to North Korea.
A memorandum of understanding between Phnom Penh and Seoul was due to be signed this
week, while Hun Sen said he planned to visit South Korea.
Diplomats and observers said Cambodia's new position would open the door for investment
and aid from South Korea.
"From North Korea, you get nothing, except some shoes and uniforms for the army,"
remarked one Cambodian observer.
Funcinpec MP Ahmad Yahya said he fully supported Cambodia's recognition of South
Korea because "there are a lot of advantages."
"We are a member of the United Nations and the United Nations recognizes both
Koreas. Our Constitution says we are neutral - that means we can establish relations
with everybody to support our mutual interests," he said.