Prime Minister Hun Manet will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland in the third week of January, marking his first visit to Europe since taking office.

Manet was invited to visit France from January 18-19 via a December 31 letter from Macron. He will become the first foreign leader to meet with the French president in 2024.

While it is Manet’s first visit to Paris as Cambodian prime minister, the visit takes place just two months after King Norodom Sihamoni met with Macron.

The King attended the Fourth Inter-Governmental Conference for the Safeguarding and Development of Angkor in the French capital in November.

“Your first visit to France since your accession to the prime ministership will allow us to make concrete progress on several important sectors which structure our bilateral relationship, particularly in the areas of economics, development, defence, heritage and the Francophonie,” said Macron, in his letter.

“I hope that this trip will make it possible to further deepen our cooperation and diversify it, in order to manage, together, the global challenges we face, particularly in terms of energy transition.

“It will allow us to examine the means we can use jointly to strengthen the rules-based global order, which guarantees the sovereignty and full independence of all states,” he added.

Macron was one of the top world leaders who congratulated Manet when he became the new prime minister of Cambodia in August last year. His congratulatory letter, dated September 19, 2023, reminded Manet that Cambodia is a historic partner of France and the Francophonie in Southeast Asia.

“I would like to assure you of my desire to continue with you the close dialogue between our two countries.

“As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence this year, I hope that cooperation between our two countries can achieve further progress, building on the initiatives taken to address the largest challenges of our time, including climate change and poverty, which we have put at the heart of the Paris Agreement for people and the planet,” he wrote.

Macron shakes hands with King Norodom Sihamoni at the Elysee Palace in the French capital Paris on November 13, 2023. AFP

According to Macron, France and Cambodia also aim to develop new projects in an Indo-Pacific space which is open, and regulated by international law.

Ahead of the trip, Manet held talks with French ambassador to Cambodia Jacques Pellet on December 20. Both sides touched on the close relations between the two countries, according to Manet’s social media channel.

During the meeting, Pellet emphasised France’s continuing and expanding cooperation with Cambodia in the health, digital, economic and infrastructure sectors, as well as their mutual support on the international stage.

Pellet announced that France will support Cambodia’s candidacy to host the Francophonie Summit in 2026, which is slated to be attended by more than 90 heads of state and government. The talks also touched on Manet’s upcoming official visit to Paris, which will be “warmly welcomed”.

Manet appreciated the “frank discussions”, and informed Pellet that Cambodian foreign policy towards France will be sustained and consistent.

Cambodia was under French colonisation for 90 years, beginning in 1864. It became independent on November 9, 1953, brought about by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

The Cambodian embassy in Paris, citing ambassador Luy David, said in a November social media post that the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk played a vital role in sustaining solid ties with France, with more than common diplomatic relations.

“These ties have been reinvigorated by the exchanges of visits by the leaders of the two countries,” it said, highlighting the visit of former Prime Minister Hun Sen to the French capital in 2022.

“[David] stressed that the policy of the new government led by Manet focuses on close friendship and relations with France, standing on the principle of mutual understanding, respect and common goals, with respect for international law and multilateralism,” it added.

Former Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre left) and President Emmanuel Macron of France hold hands in Paris on December 13, 2022. SPM

Students and members of the Cambodian diaspora in Europe shared their readiness to welcome Manet to France, as well as the WEF in Davos, to be held from January 15-19.

Manet was also invited by WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab to attend WEF 2024, during their meeting on the sidelines of the 43rd ASEAN Summit in the Indonesian capital Jakarta in September last year.

Manet said the WEF is compatible with the first phase of his government’s Pentagonal Strategy, based on the fact that his government aims to promote the development of the private sector, the economy and a digital society.

This year’s WEF, themed “Rebuilding Trust”, is set to be attended by over 100 governments, major international organisations and representatives of the forum’s 1,000 partner companies, as well as civil society leaders, experts, young change-makers, social entrepreneurs and the media, according to the WEF information centre.

No agenda has been shared for this year’s WEF, and it is not yet confirmed whether Manet will address the forum.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Macron’s invitation for Manet to visit Paris reflects a significant uplift in diplomatic ties between the two countries. It is also a positive reflection of Manet’s admirable diplomacy work to date.

He explained that while Cambodia’s ties with Western countries are not “deep”, France can play an important bridging role between the Kingdom and many European nations. France is the backbone of the EU, as well as a member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and a close ally of the US.

“Cambodia-France relations are on the right path and progressing well. In 2022, former Prime Minister Hun Sen visited France, and this was followed by the King’s recent visit to Paris. Both countries exchange frequent state visits, which is a positive sign of excellent ties,” he said.

Phea also noted France’s role as a provider of aid to the Kingdom, particularly in the health, heritage and legal sectors, as well as in administrative reform. He expected that these positive developments, with military ties also on the agenda for the upcoming visit, will pave the way for the two nations to develop a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in the future.

Hun Sen also took to social media to congratulate his successor on the upcoming state visit to Paris, highlighting that Manet, accompanied by his wife Pich Chanmony, will be the first foreign leader to meet with the French president this year.

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng