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MOFA’s Experts: Cambodia has a special place in Japan’s heart

Kay Kimsong / Khmer Times Share:
Mr. HAYASHI Hirotake, Principal Deputy Director, First Southeast Asia Division, for Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Supplied

In the 1990s, Japan lent its hands to Cambodia by helping with the nation’s peacekeeping process. The assistance came after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for bringing the Kingdom to complete devastation. Since then, Cambodia has fostered a special relationship with Japan.

Presently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on a mission to make Ja­pan a “Proactive Contribu­tor to Peace” – a role which Japan has so far fulfilled given their substantial contributions to the rise and development of the Kingdom. With the current improvements extending to Cambodia’s economic, trade, political and social sectors, the nation’s in­vestment potential has piqued the interest of some Japanese investors.

In an interview with Khmer Times, Hayashi Hirotake, principal deputy director of the First Southeast Asia Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explains how Cambodia- Japan relations have fared so far and how it can be further expanded.

Q: How does Japan see Cambodia for business opportunities?

A: I believe Japanese firms want to add value to the Cambodian economy by manufacturing products in Cambodia that can be exported. They also seek to bring high-quality goods to the Cambodian market at a reasonable price. The added value on the King­dom’s consumption is also Japan’s way of investing in Cambodia.

Q: What is the role of JICA and JETRO in the Japanese government’s decision to provide loans, grants or investment op­portunities to Cambodia?

A: Companies, including Japanese firms, have in­vested a lot over the past 10 or 20 years. We are very proud of JICA’s work, especially the people of JICA who fly overseas to work hand-in-hand with regional and national of­fices. I think they are cru­cial in maintaining Japa­nese diplomatic ties. We are very proud of the work they do.

Meanwhile, JETRO has the role of helping Japa­nese firms interested in investing overseas by re­searching the commercial situation in each country. I hope they play a role in drawing the attention of Japanese companies to­wards Cambodia.

Q: I understand that Ja­pan plans to build a new terminal at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in 2021. Do you have any updates regarding the project?

A: For us, Sihanoukville is a very important area. Because of its location within the region, it could help Cambodia increase its commercial activity, espe­cially in import and export. That is why we have tried to help Cambodia develop Sihanoukville. We under­stand that there is a huge Chinese presence there. [However] for us, it seems their presence is more or less motivated by tourism and others.

For us, we see Siha­noukville from a differ­ent perspective. We have different goals when it comes to how we wish to strengthen tourism in Sih­anoukville. What’s impor­tant for us is the economic development of Cambodia.

Q: Are Japanese compa­nies interested in employ­ing Cambodian workers to work in Japan?

A: We believe Cambo­dians are hard-working people and keen to learn new skills. That is why we have initiatives that grant them the opportunity to work in Japan. These jobs include nursing, caregiving and industrial work. These are opportunities that we want Cambodians to grab.

Unfortunately, there are exams that they have to take. Their skills and knowledge will be tested to prove they can quickly be integrated into Japa­nese companies. Actually, we already have training centres set up in develop­ing countries where par­ticipants are trained to achieve the standard of skill and language profi­ciency required of them.

Q: Can you highlight which sectors in Cambo­dia has Japan been help­ing out?

A: Since 1992, Japan has been one of the largest donors of Cambodia. We have provided assistance in the construction of med­ical facilities and bridges, as well as technical assis­tance through training and capacity building. The as­sistance projects we pro­vide are funded through concessional loans.

As the country devel­ops, the amount of aid we provide decreases little by little because the need and demand on your side start changing as well, as evidenced by the growing focus in the construction of large infrastructures, which, in turn, bring in various business opportu­nities.

Q: Do you think the fact that China has given sub­stantial grant aids to Cambodia affects Japan’s influence in the country?

A: Of course, we can’t provide a loan for every­thing. We only provide for projects that we believe are appropriate for Cam­bodia and Japan. I don’t see why we need to com­pare the number of loans provided by countries. I think what’s more impor­tant is that we’re making a proper impact. We don’t want to be spending mil­lions of dollars on projects that neither benefits Japan nor Cambodia.

Q: Loans from Western countries are generally linked to democratic and human rights pursuits. Are Japan’s aids linked to any conditions?

A: We don’t do con­ditional loans. Our aids do not dwell on issues outside economic inter­ests. This doesn’t mean we don’t value human rights. Human rights are important. Some western countries believe human rights should be closely linked with economic pol­icy whereas others believe human rights come as a re­sult of economic develop­ment. In any case, the kind of assistance that should be in place depends on each country. We believe that we should respect the culture and history of each country.

Q: What is your view on China’s large-scale pro­jects in Cambodia?

A: That’s up to the Cam­bodian government and its people. That’s your con­cern. I do hope European countries will invest in Cambodia as well. Hope­fully, they will be able to extend their help.

Q: Lastly, what can you say about the cultural co­operation between Cam­bodia and Japan?

A: The historical Angkor Wat temple is a very popu­lar place for the Japanese. We also believe that the preservation of heritage and cultural sites is very important. We have been providing assistance that aims to advance this ad­vocacy. A lot of Japanese people visit the site. Be­cause of that, we set up a diplomatic office to ensure tourists receive proper assistance and guidance there.

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