Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday emphasized the importance of science and technology for the future economic development of the nation and called for public-private partnerships to build the infrastructure needed to make the transition to a more technology-based economy and society.
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Speaking at a conference yesterday, the premiere said building a knowledge and skill-based economy was key to boosting industrial productivity and maintaining current growth rates.
With 30 percent of the country’s population under the age of 30, Cambodia finds itself in a unique position to fully adopt new technologies and integrate them into its industry, Mr Hun Sen stressed.
The conference, dubbed ‘2018 Cambodia Outlook Conference on Science and Technology for Industrialization, Economic Growth and Development’, was organized by Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) and ANZ Royal Bank.
“The development of physical infrastructure is vital to support the country’s growth and development,” he said. “However, technology and innovation is even more important for Cambodia to increase competitiveness and diversify the economy in the future.”
He highlighted China, India, Brazil, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia as possible role models due to the way they have successfully adopted and applied science and technology to grow their economies.
Mey Kalyan, the newly appointed chairman of CDRI, a government think-tank, echoed the same sentiment.
“Science and technology allows the whole society to prosper, not just the economy. As a developing nation, strengthening science and technology should be a priority,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, however, raised concerns over the potential impact of the fourth industrial revolution on the country’s labour force.
“The problem is clear: If robots replace people inside factories, where are those people going to work?” he asked. “It is an issue that we must ponder because there is no escaping it; the forth industrial revolution will erase jobs for many Cambodians.
“We need to ensure that people that lose jobs to machines are able to find decent employment and are not ostracised,” he said.
In a study of 15 major developed and emerging economies, the World Economic Forum projected that emerging technological trends will lead to a net loss of over five million jobs by 2020. Worldwide, this number will almost certainly be much higher.
Cambodia aims to complete its transition into a predominantly digital economy by 2023, according to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
Minister Tram Iv Tek said their goal is to reach total broadband coverage in urban areas by 2020, with at least 70 percent coverage in rural areas. They want at least 80 percent of Cambodians to have internet access within the next two years.
According to data from the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia, more than 10.7 million mobile phones had internet connection in 2017, a 33.77 percent increase year-on-year. There were 8.5 million internet users in 2017, half a million more people than the previous year.