Diplomatic ties between Cambodia and South Korea were re-established on October 30, 1997. Over the past 26 years, relations and cooperation between the two countries in all fields have been strengthened and expanded and have brought huge benefits to the two nations and peoples.
These good relations have been witnessed through the frequent exchange of visits by leaders of both countries, the increase in trade exchanges, investment and tourism as well as people-to-people connectivity.
Within the political sphere, the leaders of both countries have continued their frequent communications. For instance, Prime Minister Hun Sen paid eight official and working visits to South Korea while Deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister Prak Sokhonn paid a working visit in 2019 and an official visit in 2021.
At the same time, former South Korean presidents Roh Moo-hyun, Lee Myung-bak, and Moon Jae-in as well as incumbent President Yoon Suk Yeol paid visits to the Kingdom in 2006, 2009, 2019 and 2022 respectively.
Both countries also have frameworks that help promote bilateral cooperation including Cambodia-ROK (Republic of Korea) Joint Commission Meeting which is held biennially, and the Cambodia-ROK Joint Economic Committee Meeting which is held annually.
On the economic front, South Korea is one of Cambodia’s key trade partners. In recent years, bilateral trade has kept good momentum despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on statistics provided by Cambodian Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak, Cambodia-ROK bilateral trade increased from $729.13 million in 2020 to $778.92 million in 2022.
In addition, according to the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), by 2022, South Korean investment capital in the Kingdom was ranked No2, amounting to roughly $5.06 billion, covering 222 projects. Moreover, the Cambodia-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which have recently entered into force, will further promote trade and investment between the two countries.
South Korea is also one of Cambodia’s key official development assistance (ODA) providers for socio-economic and physical infrastructure development.
According to Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, South Korea is the 3rd largest development partner after China and Japan. In addition, Cambodia was the largest recipient of South Korean ODA in 2022.
Projects involving national roads 3, 31, 33 and 117 have been completed with financing from South Korea, while national roads 2, 22 and 48 are under construction. On top of this, the Cambodia-Korea Friendship Bridge project has already been approved and a loan agreement was signed in December. Furthermore, from 1996 to 2022, South Korea has offered about $431 million of grant aid to Cambodia.
In terms of labour cooperation, South Korea is the second-biggest destination for Cambodian workers. From 2007 to October last year, 75,852 Cambodian workers had been dispatched to work there, of whom 48,059 worked or are currently working in factories or farms. Those workers have received an average monthly wage of $1,450.
Speaking at a Sangkran event to celebrate Khmer New year in South Korea on April 16, Cambodian Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Samheng said that, on average, a Cambodian worker could send roughly $1,000 per month to their families, injecting around $600 million per year to the Cambodian economy.
He added that South Korea was the only country that kept accepting Cambodian workers during the pandemic.
On people-to-people connectivity, Cambodians are among the largest foreign communities in South Korea. By early 2023, around 70,000 Cambodians were living and working there, some 6,000 of whom were married to Koreans. They have formed communities and associations in various regions to keep in close contact and provide support within their communities as well as to showcase Cambodian culture and traditions.
Every year, those Khmer communities celebrate Cambodian festivities including Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year in order to preserve as well as to spread rich Khmer culture and traditions to the Korean people and those of other nationalities.
This year too, after South Korea lifted Covid-19 restrictions, Cambodian communities in their respective regions enjoyed celebrating 2023 Sangkran events with thousands of participants.
One of the biggest Sangkran events was held in Uijeongbu city, in collaboration between the Cambodian embassy in Seoul, the labour ministry and Cambodian associations in South Korea. The event was attended by Samheng and his delegation, embassy officials, diplomatic corps, representatives from relevant Korean authorities and more than 5,000 Cambodian nationals.
During the event, Samheng said that, with close and good cooperation between the two nations, a lot of Cambodian workers could come and work as well as enjoy such gathering.
These fruitful outcomes are just from a few areas of cooperation – others include security, defence, education and cooperation in international frameworks. These results are from good relations and cooperation between both countries, and this good momentum should be cherished.
It is clear that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia will continue to strengthen and expand her relations with South Korea to bring additional benefits for the two peoples and nations.
Lourn Saboeun is counsellor at the Cambodian embassy in Seoul.
The views expressed in this article are his own.