Prime Minister Hun Manet told members of the Cambodian diaspora in Europe that his visit to France and his meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron were not taking place by chance.

He explained that they are born from the value France places on Cambodia, in terms of diplomatic, political and economic relations.

Manet is scheduled to hold talks with Macron on January 18-19 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. 

Ahead of attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Manet met with more than 2,000 Cambodians living in Europe. During the gathering, he “updated” them on the current environment of peace and development which the Kingdom enjoys.

“My visit to France is not by chance, nor did I ask for it to take place. All my official visits have followed invitations. My visit to France is special, because normally only leaders who are at the same level write personal invitations. This invitation was from the French president, the highest level of leadership in France,” he said. 

“This is a testament to the high value that France places on the bilateral relations in the fields of diplomacy, politics and the economy. It is our honour and we responded to the invitation with equality. Our relationship with France dates back to long ago. We share historic ties, which we must maintain,” he added.

Although it was Macron who personally invited Manet, former opposition party leader Sam Rainsy criticised Manet’s planned meeting with the French president, calling for the latter to be mindful of deceit by what he called “The Hun Family”. 

The self-exiled opposition leader, who holds French citizenship, has even hit out at Macron’s closest associates.

“[Macron’s] advisers lack information and expertise on the issues in Cambodia. But my explanation, written in French, should be enough for him to understand,” wrote Rainsy, in a social media screenshot of an opinion piece he authored.

Although Manet did not mention Rainsy by name, he noted that world leaders like Macron are wise enough to make careful decisions before writing an invitation letter, such as the one written to him.

He said the invitation was clearly based on an interest in relations between Cambodia and France.

“If there are concerns that Macron invited me to come here or fears that I came here to deceive him, I have nothing to say. If the president of a superpower could be deceived by me, then it is finished. 

“This has nothing to do with deception. As the leaders of two nations, what we have to do is protect the interests of our countries and peoples, not worry about personal gain,” he said.

Manet reminded all politicians to put their nations before their personal interests, no matter whether they are in opposition or in power.

“They must care about national interests, and put them ahead of any political gain. I don’t need all of you to love me, and I won’t even ask you to stop criticising me – you have the right to do so. But please, focus on the national interest and put it above all else,” he added.

Manet said that during his six days in Europe, he is scheduled to attend more than 40 meetings with international partners. Even if he just had 15 minutes for some discussions with potential investors, he was committed to attracting as much capital investment to the Kingdom as possible.

Cambodia to host Francophonie summit 2026

Manet also confirmed that Cambodia will host the Francophonie summit in 2026, as the Kingdom’s application had been backed by Macron. 

“I want to share some good news with you. In 2026, Cambodia will host the Francophonie summit. We have submitted the application, and French President Macron has supported our bid. As a member of the Francophonie, this is a source of pride for us,” he said.

French ambassador Jacques Pellet holds a press conference on Prime Minister Hun Manet’s official visit to Paris, at the embassy in Phnom Penh on January 15.Hong Menea

He explained that while Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all members of the Francophonie in the Southeast Asian region, Cambodia is the most active member. Cambodia intends to continue to expand its relations with Francophonie countries, on security, diplomacy and culture, among other areas. 

French ambassador to Cambodia Jacques Pellet held a press conference at the embassy on the morning of January 15 to highlight the importance of Manet’s visit to France.

He explained that the embassy wants to see a high-level connection between the French authorities and the prime minister of Cambodia.

“We would also like to see strengthened political dialogue on several topics which both sides will discuss, one after another,” Pellet said.

“Cambodia has entered its candidacy to host the Francophonie summit, and we hope that in 2026, the Kingdom will host this event. We may also see an official visit to Cambodia by President Macron, in order for him to attend the summit,” he added.

“For France, Cambodia is a gateway of French policy for ASEAN. We support the training centre for Cambodia blue-helmet troops, which can also be employed to train peacekeepers from other ASEAN countries. We have a letter of recognition from the UN,” Pellet continued.

Thong Mengdavid, a research supervisor at the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), described Cambodia-French relations as “vivid”, following last November’s visit to Paris by King Norodom Sihamoni, as well as the current visit by Manet.

“The prime minister’s visit will promote multifaceted cooperation in several socio-economic sectors, as well as acting as a driver which motivates French investors and visitors to Cambodia,” he said. 

Regarding the hosting of the Francophonie in 2026, several analysts believe that the summit will lift the Cambodian name up among French speaking countries and its relationship with France will also be strengthened. 

“The influence of the French language is decreasing globally, meaning the members of the Francophonie require more support from France,” said Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun.

He believes that the French should provide more aid to Francophonie members, for example in terms of technological expertise. For Cambodia, he suggested that France assist the country in the democratic and human rights sectors, as both were signatories of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991.

Chey Tech, an independent socio-economic analyst, noted that the Francophonie summit will be hosted by France this year. 

“Should Cambodia host it in 2026, the Kingdom will have an opportunity to strengthen relations with nearly 50 member counties, including large nations like Canada and Switzerland, as well as many others in Africa,” he said.

“Moreover, the summit will provide cultural and tourism benefits, as the Kingdom can use the forum to promote itself as a tourism destination,” he added.

Tech suggested that it could also promote investment and trade between Cambodia and the many other countries that will participate.

Additional reporting by Orm Bunthoeurn