Thailand and Cambodia’s many ties have never been stronger thanks to decades of efforts from the governments and leaders of both nations.
The fostering of such a warm friendship has contributed to remarkable people-to-people relations, in turn reinforcing the already close ties that have proven mutually beneficial for both nations.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Thailand-Cambodia diplomatic relations – a hugely important milestone that speaks volumes to the warmth between the two neighbours.
Panyarak Poolthup, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Thailand to Cambodia expressed confidence that both nations have plenty more to share as they continue to prosper.
Blooming bilateral ties
Linked by centuries of history, with a similar culture and a shared religion, ties between the neighbours have stood the test of time – and Thailand’s top diplomat in Cambodia says they are set to blossom even further in the coming years.
“We are currently enjoying the best of bilateral relations due to the close ties between the two countries’ leaders. The political will is always there to resolve any issues that may arise.
“Making the people’s well-being the priority of both governments and keeping dialogue open at all levels are the key factors enabling us to jointly address issues of common interest.
“As we share a long border, we both know that we have to live and grow together,” Panyarak said.
He stressed how highly Bangkok regards strong links with its neighbours.
“Thailand attaches great importance to our neighbouring countries. This is an important cornerstone of Thai foreign policy – even if the government changes, this will never change,” Panyarak said.
And the figures point to the remarkable results of this position, with $4 billion in bilateral trade, including border trade, between Thailand and Cambodia in the first half of this year alone, while around 400,000 Thai tourists visited Cambodia in 2019.
The strength of relations is also reflected by the nearly 900,000 Cambodians who travelled to Thailand last year, and the more than 20 flights per day that connected Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Around one million Cambodian workers have found jobs in Thailand, sending sizeable amounts of remittance home to their families annually.
These bilateral exchanges have brought growth and supported the economies of the two nations, thus improving the well-being of people on both sides of the border.
But beyond these impressive figures lie other aspects of relations that are possibly even more important as they are solid foundations for a shared and sustainable future between Thailand and Cambodia.
“Thais and Cambodians have always been close. Geographically we are attached to each other along an 800km border.
“With cross-border marriages common, we are linked through family ties.
“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, businesspeople, workers, tourists and students were regularly travelling back and forth between the countries.
“A similar culture and shared beliefs have led Thais and Cambodians to share interests and even have a similar sense of humour,” Panyarak said.
Both governments are commited to pursuing their people-centred policies, and they are looking to promote various forms of bilateral cooperation to further achieve this.
The Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) has long been active, playing a major role in linking the two sides’ relevant institutions as they cooperate with an emphasis on human development and the exchange of knowledge.
The Cambodia-Thailand Development Cooperation Programme on Health assisting hospitals in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces is just one of the many large-scale initiatives.
A number of Cambodian students and junior officials also receive scholarships to study and train in Thailand every year.
Meanwhile, several projects initiated under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn have touched the lives of people on the ground, bringing about better living conditions for many at risk of being left behind.
The royal projects aiming to improve public health in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, and vocational training in Kampong Thom and Kampong Speu have resulted in tangible outcomes and are among the best examples.
70th anniversary celebrations
The Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh organised a series of activities beginning this year to commemorate the long-term bilateral ties, before the Covid-19 outbreak struck.
They kicked off with a jazz concert by an ensemble from the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra in February, which was graced by His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni.
The “70 Years of Friendship Through My Eyes” photo competition was launched to give an opportunity for Thais and Cambodians from all walks of life to express their views on current relations, particularly at the people-to-people level.
A former student in Thailand, 22-year-old Sothearoth Heng from Kampong Leav in Prey Veng province – who was awarded an honourable mention in the photo contest – said that, despite some difficult times in the past, “once we open our hearts to each other, we get to know each other and understand each other better”.
Meanwhile, Vithitphol Sriwaraluck, a 40-year-old art director with TV5, who won first prize and has been living in Cambodia for more than five years, said: “Cambodians are open and warm-hearted to foreigners. My Cambodian friends treat me like a family member.”
While bilateral relations are closely linked at all levels, both nations are continuing to explore ways to further ensure that such ties are even more robust and resilient.
Increased connectivity is ranked a top priority. Connectivity can be both physical in terms of the infrastructure linking the two countries or the non-physical, such as understanding between Thais and Cambodians.
As the ambassador stressed: “A combination of both will be the backbone of bilateral relations to ensure the two neighbours prosper together for many years to come.”