Local analysts note effective UK-Cambodia collaboration, despite the EU’s partial withdrawal of its Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme, with a UK official highlighting the positive progression of the relationship.

In early March, UK minister for Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan undertook her inaugural three-day visit to Phnom Penh, aiming to bolster cooperation in trade, economic development and education.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, stated the cooperation exemplifies strong ties between a growing economy like Cambodia and a European power like the UK. 

“Actually, we have seen excellent cooperation between the UK and Cambodia recently. Despite the EU’s partial withdrawal of its EBA scheme, when the UK exited the EU, it established a direct relationship with Cambodia, independent of EU policy aspects,” he said. 

Peou noted that such collaboration enhances the country’s strengths in international affairs, trade and foreign policy, boosting its influence and profile on the global stage.

During her trip, Trevelyan visited various artefacts that were repatriated from the UK at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. She reaffirmed her government’s commitment to strengthening cultural ties and increasing mutual understanding between the two kingdoms.

“Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona welcomed me to this extraordinary showcase of the country’s restoration of its historic treasures. It was a real privilege, a moment to witness the UK-Cambodia relationship progressing on its next journey together,” Trevelyan states in a video post on the British embassy in Phnom Penh’s social media.

“We look forward to seeing this relationship develop further. It’s been a great trip. Come and visit Cambodia!” she added.

Trevelyan said she had discussions with Cambodian ministers about economic and foreign affairs, the challenges faced by both countries including climate change and had talks with British businesspeople about the substantial opportunities for investment in Cambodia and understanding some of the challenges.

Trade, investment and human rights

She met with Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth to discuss UK-Cambodia trade and investment.

She said their meeting centred on introducing UK expertise and world-class education to Cambodia and exploring additional investment opportunities. 

She added that they addressed the challenges faced by British businesses and discussed how the two governments could collaborate to resolve these issues.

Thong Mengdavid, a lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s (RUPP) Institute for International Studies and Public Policy, noted that Cambodia-UK relations primarily revolve around capacity building, education, culture, and economic and investment activities. 

He highlighted the UK’s important role in developing Cambodia’s education system through Chevening Scholarships and various organisations. 

“Moreover, the UK is also prioritising the strengthening and promotion of democracy, laws and the preservation of natural cultures, assisting Cambodia in developing sustainably and inclusively and enhancing resilience,” stated Mengdavid.

“Cambodia and the UK should primarily focus on further promoting trade volumes, increasing UK investment and conducting a feasibility study for a free trade agreement [FTA] between the two countries,” he added.

According to the embassy, Trevelyan had fruitful discussions with representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs) in anticipation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

It stated that the UK remains fully committed to supporting CSOs and working with relevant stakeholders to enhance civil and political space in Cambodia.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID), told The Post that Trevelyan’s meetings would provide valuable information and input for the UK to make decisions in its interests. 

He said the efforts aim to maintain engagement with the Cambodian government and address issues related to the restriction of political freedom and space. 

“Overall, the UK appears to have adopted a cooperative stance with the government, despite criticisms of democratic regression and human rights issues,” he added.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson An Sokkhoeurn stated in March 2023 that Cambodia guarantees “complete” freedom of expression for its citizens. 

He elaborated that the people have access to a wide array of information sources, including those critical of the government, and that they have exercised their rights by lodging complaints directly on the official social media channels of state institutions and the top leaders.

In December 2023, a week before International Human Rights Day, Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), stated that the government has ensured democracy and security, based on respect for human rights, as enshrined in the 1993 Constitution.

UK university in Cambodia

The embassy reported that Trevelyan’s visit to Cambodia was fruitful, highlighting her encounters with many positive aspects of the country. 

During her visit, she toured De Montfort University Cambodia, the first British university in the nation, which has introduced real UK expertise to the country. 

She was delighted to witness how the UK’s leading educational institutions have become integral to Cambodia’s development.

In 2023, the UK committed $37 million to enhance education access for women and girls across Southeast Asia. The fund is set to support approximately 100,000 women and girls, providing them with scholarships, refresher courses and teacher training to improve the quality of education.

Peou commented on the establishment of the university’s branch, describing it as a step towards strengthening cooperation in education. 

He remarked that the funding further improved the UK-Cambodia relationship. 
“As an observer of political and international affairs, we welcome the cooperation between [the two nations],” he added.

In mid-March, Colonel Eddie Maskell-Pedersen, the UK’s non-resident defence attache, held discussions with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen to explore future cooperation.

Maskell-Pedersen expressed gratitude to Cambodia for its position against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also met with officials from the National Defence University (NDU) and the naval forces.