This year marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Japan. Both countries plan to organise a series of events to commemorate their time-honoured friendship and partnership.
Japan’s ambassador, Hidehisa Horinouchi, said in his popular 60 seconds Facebook post: “I sincerely hope that relations between Japanese and Cambodians will bloom through these memorable events.”
A lawmaker from the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Suos Yara, said: “Cambodia-Japan relationship is based on heart-to-heart relationship. It is sustainable and long-term.”
Japan has won the hearts of Cambodians, which secures Japan’s long-term interest in the kingdom. The image of Japan has been positive across the country, from urban to rural areas.
Cambodians from all walks of life and different political orientations share the common perception that Japan is a sincere friend and partner of Cambodia. Such a positive public perception is the foundation of future bilateral ties.
Japan is an old friend of Cambodia. King Norodom Sihanouk visited Tokyo in March 1953 – he was the first Asian king to visit Japan’s Imperial Place after World War II – as part of his diplomatic effort to get independence from France.
In 1954, Cambodia renounced the right of the state to ask for compensation for damages caused by Japan during World War II.
In 1955, both countries signed a Treaty of Amity. Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi made his first state visit to Cambodia in 1957.
Japan is one of the core development partners of Cambodia.
Japan provided the first loan to Cambodia in 1968 to develop Prek Thnot. The development cooperation, however, was disrupted by the civil war in Cambodia.
Since 1992, Japan has provided tremendous support to reconstruct the war-torn Cambodia. Japan is the biggest donor for Cambodia, which accounts for 20 percent of the total amount of the inflow of official development assistance (ODA) to Cambodia.
Japan’s ODA focuses on four areas – the development of social and economic infrastructure, improvement of basic social services, promotion of agriculture and rural development and human resource development.
Both countries upgraded their partnership to a “strategic partnership” in 2013, as both countries commemorated their 60th anniversary. Since then comprehensive cooperation has been remarkably enhanced.
In the past few years, Japan’s economic presence in Cambodia has increased significantly. Cambodia has become one of the most attractive destinations for Japanese investors.
Now there are about 200 Japanese companies operating in Cambodia, compared with only 50 companies in 2010. The accumulated investment capital from 2010 to 2017 accounted about $1.5 billion.
The bilateral trade volume was about $1.5 billion in 2016 in which Cambodia exported to Japan $1.2 billion. In the first 11 months in 2017, the trade volume was more than $1.5 million.
The bridge of the heart between the two people has been nurtured and strengthened.
Japanese non-profit organisations and volunteers have contributed to the socio-economic development of Cambodia since 1992. There were 3,518 Japanese people living in Cambodia as of October 2017.
Human resource development is the foundation of Cambodia’s development. So far, more than 1,100 Cambodian students have completed their higher education in Japan.
And more than 5,700 Cambodians have attended the Technical Intern Training organised by Japan, as of June 2017.
In addition, there are two main youth exchange programmes that help promote people-to-people ties, the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program and Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Student and Youth.
Migration is emerging as a new area of bilateral cooperation. More than 6,000 Cambodians have worked in Japan.
Early this year, Cambodia signed an agreement with the union association from Ehime prefecture of Japan to send about 1,000 Cambodian trainees a year to work there.
Last month, Japan launched its consular office in Siem Reap – it is a sign of enhanced bilateral partnership. About 200,000 Japanese tourists visit Siem Reap annually.
Siem Reap is also home to 19 Japanese companies and about 400 Japanese citizens.
Japan continues to support electoral reform in Cambodia, although the US and the EU have suspended their support of the electoral body of Cambodia after the dissolution of the main opposition party in November last year.
When it comes to strategic and security cooperation, Cambodia welcomes a more proactive role of Japan in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Southeast Asian countries generally regard Japan as a benign power.
Vannarith Chheang is a Southeast Asian analyst based in Singapore and Phnom Penh.