After Emperor Akihito abdicated on 30 April 2019, Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascension to the Chrysanthemum throne on 1 May 2019. The ushering of the new Japanese ruler marked the end of “Heisei” (peace everywhere) to “Reiwa” (beautiful peace) and opened a new era for Japan where everyone’s aspiration for the auspicious future can bloom.
Peace is everything for Japan, a country that blatantly renounces war due to the unprecedented destruction of World War II 75 years ago. Japan is a peaceful country and wishes for a harmonious coexistence with all other nations in the world. Japan is already a senior member of the community of advanced nations and is one of Asia’s oldest democratic governments. Having lived for nearly four years’ in Japan, I witnessed four elections and had met five Japanese Prime Ministers. I can see that democracy is not easy. The British Statesman Clement Atlee once said: “Democracy is government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.” During late March 2005, His Majesty Norodom Sihanouk, then-King and head of State of Cambodia, sent me to serve as a Cambodian Ambassador to Japan. I had the greatest honour to present the Letter of Credence to His Majesty Akihito, Emperor of Japan on 11 April 2005 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I returned back to Cambodia in November 2008 after my term ended. I have kept wonderful memories of my stay in Japan and the following paragraphs are the essence of this reminiscence.
Japan was among the first foreign countries to recognise Cambodia’s independence and has established diplomatic relations with Cambodia soon after the country regained sovereignty from France in 1953. Because the two countries have never had neither cultural or territorial disputes, deep bond of friendship and cordial cooperation between the two countries developed and strengthened over the years in all fields of Cambodia’s national reconstruction and rehabilitation which is strongly supported by Japan. Despite the distance between the two countries, Cambodia and Japan have never experienced any animosity. On the contrary, both have become increasingly close with each other because of so many things that bind them historically and the numerous values they share.
As a new country rebounding from years of isolation and war-induced devastation, Cambodia has had excellent relations with Japan. During my diplomatic mission, I had the honour to join the Japanese government in warmly welcoming Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia, who paid an official visit to Japan from 13 to 16 June 2007. On June 14, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Samdech Hun Sen, signed the “Agreement between Japan and the Kingdom of Cambodia for the Liberalisation, Promotion and Protection of Investment” to promote investment between Japan and Cambodia and strengthen bilateral economic relations. From 15 to 20 October 2007, I had the privilege to join the Diet of Japan in welcoming Samdech Heng Samrin, President of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, who paid an official visit to Japan as an official guest of the House of Representatives of Japan.For Cambodia, Japan has always been a great friend. All Cambodians know that Japan has assumed a meaningful role in bringing peace and development to Cambodia. Since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia in October 1991, Japan has continued to mobilise the much-needed assistance to rehabilitate and help reconstruct Cambodian national economy and the much-need physical infrastructures. Japan has provided substantial financial and technical assistances to Cambodia especially for repairs and rehabilitation of infrastructure in the country. Since 1993 Japan has helped build and rehabilitate schools, hospitals, roads, ports, bridges, electrical systems and water treatment facilities across the country.These projects are durable, quality constructions that promote further development of the country. Japan’s openhanded aid programme has brought some considerable benefits to Cambodia and had uplifted the wellbeing of the common people over the past three decades. Japan’s assistance to Cambodia has been instrumental in helping the Kingdom rebuild itself and reestablish its image and prestige as member of the international community. Their assistance has greatly contributed to peace, stability, and development in Cambodia, a country of vital importance to Japan’s diplomacy.
Japanese ODA accounts for as much as 20 percent of the total ODA inflow received by Cambodia, making Japan one of the biggest donors in the country. In an effort to help Cambodia meet its development goals, the Japanese government keeps close consultation with its Cambodian counterpart, and provides grants, technical cooperation and yen loans in support, primarily in the following priority areas: (1) good governance, (2) creation of an environment conducive to economic growth, (3) consolidation of the economic and social infrastructure, (4) strengthening of the health and medical care framework, (5) strengthening of the education system, (6) agriculture and rural development, (7) clearing of antipersonnel mines and aid for the disabled, (8) management of environmental resources, and (9) human resources development.
I should not neglect to mention the important efforts and generous humanitarian activities undertaken by many Japanese non-governmental organisations and individual Japanese citizens in Cambodia, which are keenly implemented and conform with the Cambodian government’s policies focused on health care and education as well as on poverty reduction, which are highly appreciated and really beneficial to the poor Cambodian people.
During my time as an Ambassador, Japanese visitors ranked First in tourist foot traffic. There has been an increase in people to people exchange between our two countries from year-on-year, as can be seen by an increasing number of Japanese tourists visiting Cambodia and its famous temples, like Angkor. These people-to-people exchange has contributed enormously to strengthening mutual understanding between the two nations and peoples.
On a personal note and during my diplomatic tenure, I discovered the many attractions and sophistications in the Japanese culture affluence and its profound soft power, as well as a new pillar of Japan’s Foreign Policy. The Japanese tradition and their way of life strongly intrigued me, as it does to most foreign visitors to Japan. I have been impressed and enchanted with the delicious and healthy sushi and sashimi as well as other mouth-watering Japanese culinary, the Japanese Manga, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, the spectacular natural sceneries, the comfort of life, the magnificent temples and shrines with their Buddhist and Shinto influences, other countless old tradition and customs that date back to the Meiji era, and the cutting-edge technology. Equally fascinating to me was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new concept of promoting universal values and building closer relations with like-minded countries. What had transpired in 2006 was a nationalistic shift toward engaging more.
This captivating new foreign policy of Japan, known as “the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity and Values-Oriented Diplomacy”, was heralded as a rare example of a strategic approach that could be used as a tool to bolster relations with various partners and extending Japan’s diplomatic reach to further regions.
In conclusion, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with many Japanese officials, members of Diet, universities, NGOs, and common citizens of Japan and I have been struck by their willingness to help Cambodia. I had always been awed by the industrial and economic might of Japan; however, it humbles me to know that a small country like Cambodia can be the recipient of such support and kindness. This has made me realise that there is so much more to Japan than economic production and GNP. It is its profound culture and value that makes it great. It is the hard work, commitment, discipline, warm, and peace-loving citizens that drive this great nation.
If we look at Cambodia today, we see how the generosity of Japan has lightened our burdens and empowered so many of our citizens. From smooth roads to new schools, from the restoration of Angkor temples to new business opportunities, Japan has touched our lives in special ways.
Cambodians do not forget that it was a citizen of Japan, Yashushi Akashi, head of the 1992 – 1993 UN Mission in Cambodia, who helped guide our country out of the mire of civil war and foreign interventions towards an era of democracy, peace and development. I cannot put into words my respect and admiration for Japan and her people. I can only say, quite simply, from my heart: “Doomo Arigato Gozaimasu”.
I also would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the government of Japan for conferring me with a prestigious recognition, the “Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star”, on 7 November 2017 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and in the presence of His Majesty Emperor of Japan.
Nine years later, I left my post as Cambodian Ambassador to Japan but I feel honoured and privileged to understand that the distinguished award was conferred to me in recognition of my contribution to the promotion of academic relations and mutual understanding between Japan and Cambodia.
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