Vietnam’s President Nguyen Phu Trong concluded an official state visit to Cambodia on Tuesday. His visit to Cambodia this time signifies an important milestone in bilateral relations with both Vietnam and Cambodia showing strong commitment to build amicable and peaceful ties. Thearith Leng comments.
Nguyen Phu Trong, President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and General-Secretary of the Communist Party, paid an official state visit to Cambodia on February 25-26, in a move to further enhance bilateral relations with Cambodia.
Mr Trong, besides paying a courtesy call to His Majesty the King of Cambodia, met with his Cambodian counterparts, such as Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Prime Minister Hun Sen during the two-day visit.
In recent years, Vietnam has become one of the Kingdom’s top economic partners with bilateral trade turnover coming close to $4.68 billion in 2018, an increase of 23.7 percent compared to 2017. The two countries plan to increase the bilateral trade volume up to $5 billion in subsequent years. Vietnam is also one of the top foreign investors in Cambodia, with a total value of over $3 billion.
On February 26, both parties concluded five documents namely Addendum on the Revision of Articles 6 and 17 of the Agreement on Waterway Transportation, Protocol on Amendment to the Protocol of Implementation of the Agreement on Road Transportation, MoU on the Provision of the Grant for the Project of Construction of New Administration Buildings for Secretary General of the National Assembly of Cambodia, Arrangement on Bilateral Trade Enhancement and MoU on Tourism Cooperation 2019-2021.
The most interesting aspects of cooperation between the two countries can be seen in the contents of the joint statement issued on February 26. First of all, unlike the previous statements or declarations, the two leaders are more serious in terms of building strong bilateral ties. Paragraph 3 of Article 3 of the statement reads, “the two sides agreed that protecting, preserving and developing bilateral relations of good neighbourliness, traditional friendship, comprehensive cooperation and long-lasting stability…were the common responsibilities of the two countries.” The term ‘common responsibilities’ suggests the level of seriousness of the commitment of the two countries in upgrading their bilateral ties into a new height.
Apart from article 3, the content of article 4 is worth analysing. The article reads as follows, “Both sides agree to strengthen and deepen their political relations…promote the awareness and education on the traditional friendship and solidarity between Cambodia and Vietnam among the two peoples, especially the young generation.” This statement demonstrates a new approach of the two leaders in improving the bilateral relations given their strong historical animosity. They might have envisioned that the best way to build a sustainable peace between the two nations was to foster the mutual understanding between the two peoples, not just between the leaders per se.
Further, the content of the article 6 is also worth mentioning. The article states, “the two sides stressed the importance and agreed to strengthen defence and security cooperation on the principle of not allowing any political or military forces to use the territory of one country to harm the national security of the other…” This paragraph apparently helps to ease Vietnam’s concern about a possible Chinese military base in Cambodia, although the Kingdom has never allowed any foreign countries to set up the base on its soil.
Such a concern is understandable, as there was, over the past few months, a rumour that China established the naval base in Cambodian province of Koh Kong – a claim that the Cambodian government fervently rejects.
Moreover, article 9 suggests the two countries have paid strong attention to two main issues namely the Mekong and South China Sea.
The issue of Mekong water-resource management has been mentioned both in the 2017 and 2019 joint statement, suggesting the utmost importance of the issue for both countries. It is likely that they may support each other in raising the issue in a multilateral fora, possibly in Asean-related meetings in the future.
Despite the significance of the Mekong for both nations, this issue has not attracted enough attention from some Asean countries. Apart from the Mekong, it is the first time that the issue of South China Sea is mentioned in the bilateral document. This demonstrates Cambodia’s flexible diplomacy in handling the issue of great interest to both of its crucial partners – Vietnam and China.
Overall Mr Trong’s visit to Cambodia this time signifies an important milestone in the bilateral relations between the two countries, for the contents of the joint statement reflect the strong commitment of the two nations in building amicable and peaceful ties. This visit per se reflects Hanoi’s seriousness in building good relations with Phnom Penh, because it comes amid Vietnam’s preoccupation with hosting the second US-North Korea summit which concluded yesterday.
Thearith Leng is director of the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies at the Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute.