Foreign minister Sok Chenda Sophea has lauded the evolution of Cambodia’s bilateral relations with Japan, highlighting close cooperation in various sectors, people-to-people ties and Japan’s substantial contributions to the Kingdom’s development.

The minister made the remarks during the February 14 celebration of the 64th birthday of Naruhito, Emperor of Japan, held at the Japanese Ambassador’s Official Residence in Phnom Penh.

The celebration, attended by key dignitaries from both nations, reflected the strategic partnership and mutual respect that has characterised the Cambodia-Japan relationship for decades.

Chenda Sophea, who is also deputy prime minister, extended his heartfelt wishes to the Emperor, the Empress and the Japanese people.

“The government and people of Cambodia appreciate Japan’s vital role in the Kingdom’s peacebuilding and reconstruction in the early 1990s, as well as its continued support for our socio-economic development,” he said while addressing the event.

To highlight the political engagement between the two countries, the minister pointed to several high-level exchanges, including six summits over the past two years, which have fortified their “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”. 

These include six summits in two years – four between former Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in 2022, and two between Hun Sen’s successor Hun Manet and Kishida in 2023.

Chenda Sophea said the dialogues were instrumental in building trust and expanding cooperation across various sectors, including economic ties, security and defence, while also praising deepening economic relations, buoyed by Japanese investment in key Cambodian sectors. He shared his optimism about a future influx of Japanese businesses.

“Cambodia will welcome another port call by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force [JMSDF] vessels to Sihanoukville later this month. We also cooperate closely in peacebuilding and demining – including through support for third-country demining initiatives,” he said.

Chenda Sophea acknowledged Japan’s substantial role in Cambodia’s infrastructure development through official development assistance (ODA), expressing his hopes for continued support towards the Kingdom’s ambitious goal of reaching high-income status by 2050.

He highlighted the strengthening of people-to-people ties, mentioning the contributions of numerous Japanese volunteers in the country and the participation of many Cambodian students and officials in training programmes in Japan.

“Japan is currently home to more than 20,000 Cambodian trainees and skilled workers. It is also encouraging that after the Covid-19 pandemic, tourist flow between the two countries is on the rise,” he added.

While commemorating the Emperor’s birthday, Japanese ambassador Atsushi Ueno took a moment to reflect on recent adversities faced by Japan, including the Noto peninsula earthquake and a plane crash at Haneda Airport. 

Despite these challenges, Ueno looked back at 2023 with pride, noting that it marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Cambodia and the upgrading of their relationship to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

He recounted the fruitful outcomes of recent summits, including agreements on digital cooperation and connectivity, and the establishment of a Senior Officials Dialogue on national defence. Ueno also highlighted the signing of seven cooperation documents and the positive response from the Japanese business community to Cambodian investment opportunities, presented by Manet.

In September 2023, soon after taking office, Manet met with Kishida in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit and, in December, he visited Japan to attend the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, he recalled.

Ueno also expressed his optimism for the Year of the Dragon, a time traditionally associated with significant change, while emphasising the mutual benefits of collaboration, particularly in realising a digital society, enhancing connectivity and improving the investment environment.

“In order to do so, we intend to follow up on the results of last year’s summit, and work to ensure our relationship is beneficial to both sides,” he said.