Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will pay a four-day visit to Cambodia from Wednesday to Saturday at the invitation of King Norodom Sihamoni, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation announced on Tuesday.
“His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena’s first visit to Cambodia will significantly strengthen the bonds of friendship between Cambodia and Sri Lanka, and expand cooperation in economic, trade, tourism and cultural fields,” a ministry press release said.
It said Sirisena will have a royal audience with the King at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
He will also attend a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, during which various areas of cooperation will be discussed to strengthen friendly ties between the two countries, which the ministry said are deeply connected through Buddhism.
“The two leaders will also exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern and interest,” the press release said.
Hun Sen and Sirisena will also witness the signing of several cooperation agreements.
Political analyst Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post on Tuesday that Sirisena’s visit would be a positive start to improved relations between the two countries.
He said that as far as he was aware, there had only been one official visit between Cambodia and Sri Lanka at the national level.
“In 2006, Sri Lanka’s prime minister paid a visit to Cambodia, but the Sri Lankan president hasn’t visited Cambodia and our prime minister has never visited Sri Lanka.
“We can say that the visit is the highlight of relations between the two countries in the context of a new framework. With regard to the trade volume between the two countries, we see that it is not significant. But both countries are Buddhist, so we have a similar nature,” Phea said.
He said it could be a positive sign in the framework of cooperation and mutual support in regional and international affairs, as the two countries share similar political and economic conditions and can help one another if necessary.
Political analyst Meas Nee told The Post on Tuesday that he viewed the visit on two levels. First, the main objective is simply to strengthen diplomatic ties at the invitation of the King. On another level, he said, Sri Lanka, like Cambodia, is facing criticism from the West over China’s influence.
Nee said Sri Lanka had been criticised for leasing its Hambantota port to Beijing for 99 years after it failed to repay a Chinese loan for the project.
“So it coincides with the situation in Cambodia. We see Cambodia establishing relations with Turkey and now Sri Lanka, which are countries facing Western criticism with regard to
geopolitics in the region,” he said.
The ministry’s press release said: “During his stay in Cambodia, President Maithripala Sirisena will visit Wat Lanka Preah Kosmaram and present to the Most Venerable Samdech Preah Maha Ariyavamsa Sao Chanthol a sapling of the sacred Wijaya Sri Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi [a sacred fig tree in the Mahamewna Gardens, in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka].
“Subsequently, he will attend a tree-planting ceremony at the Oudong Mountain Meditation Centre which has received a gift of 10 [Sri Lankan ironwood] trees from the president.
“President Maithripala Sirisena and members of his delegation will also visit the temples in the Angkor Archeological Park, Siem Reap province.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.