With the national election just around the corner, Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia Hidehisa Horinouchi sat down with Khmer Times’ executive editor May Titthara to discuss his country’s continued support of the Kingdom as others cut aid in the wake of the CNRP’s dissolution, as well as further strengthening of socio-economic foundations to help the nation reach its goal of becoming an upper-middle income country by 2030.
KT: Why has Japan continued to support Cambodia as other countries cut aid in the wake of the CNRP’s dissolution?
Mr Horinouchi: The enhancement of the credibility of the electoral process is an essential factor to have elections reflect the will of the Cambodian people. From this perspective, we continue to provide electoral reform assistance.
KT: As Japan continues to prop up the Cambodian government, through many infrastructure projects and other aid programs, what does it expect in return and what progress does it expect from the Cambodian government?
Mr Horinouchi: Japan continues to cooperate for the following purposes. Cambodia is in the midst of reconstructing the nation after the two decades of civil war and political turmoil. Securing political stability and smooth integration into the international community would contribute to the peace and stability of Asia. Assistance to Cambodia would also lead to redressing intra-Asean disparities, which is crucial for Asean’s development. Relations between the two countries have been getting more important through expansion of tourism, foreign direct investment by Japanese companies and human exchanges. Japan regards its active contribution to Cambodia’s reconstruction and peace-building effort as the starting point for Japan’s initiatives to make a proactive contribution to peace.
KT: With the national election nearing, what concerns does Japan have over it being recognised as fully free and fair considering the CNRP was dissolved, other party leaders have also faced what some consider politically motivated court cases, observers have pulled out and a host of smaller parties have popped up just in time to ostensibly contest the election?
Mr Horinouchi: There is no change in our position to believe that it is of utmost importance to have the national election reflect the will of the Cambodian people properly. With this in mind, we have been encouraging Cambodian stakeholders, including the government, to realise dialogue among domestic people involved in politics and to ensure the environment in which the rights of all political people and civil society organisations are respected, and that they can carry out legitimate activities.
KT: Does Japan think the election can be free and fair without the main opposition party and what is your opinion on some criticising Japan for its continued assistance when others like the US and EU have cut electoral aid?
Mr Horinouchi: Japan has monitored the development of the situation closely with strong interest, and has given necessary encouragement to all stakeholders. The enhancement of the credibility of the electoral process is an essential factor to have election reflect the will of Cambodian people. From this perspective, we continue to provide electoral reform assistance.
We are not in the position to comment on the stance of other countries.
KT: What is the most important benefit Japans receives through its close relationship with Cambodia?
Mr Horinouchi: Believing our relationship could either directly or indirectly contribute to peace and prosperity not only in our countries, but in the region and the world, Japan has been cooperating actively with Cambodia, including through the Cambodian peace process in the late 80s and its subsequent reconstruction and development process. Noting longtime friendship between the two countries, in 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to upgrade bilateral relations to a strategic partnership and also to coordinate and cooperate more closely on regional and international issues.
Under this partnership, Japan and Cambodia have been strengthening cooperation in many areas such as infrastructure, including roads, bridges and ports, the removal of landmines and unexploded bombs, electoral reform, and encouragement of investment.
KT: Japan has plans to train Cambodians to take care of its elderly. What policies must be put in place to protect these migrant workers?
Mr Horinouchi: Regarding technical intern training programs, it aims to contribute to developing countries by accepting people from these countries for a certain period of time (a maximum five years) and transferring skills through on-the-job training, including care workers. To strengthen management and supervisory systems, as well as protect technical intern trainees in order to accomplish the purpose of the program, the Memorandum of Cooperation was exchanged between the Japanese government and Cambodian government in July 2017.
KT: What is the difference between Japanese and Chinese aid?
Mr Horinouchi: We are not in the position to answer the query about the difference between Japan’s and other countries’ assistance.
KT: Japan recently extended term limits for sitting prime ministers, but Cambodia has none, leaving the door open for a single leader for decades? Should this be changed?
Mr Horinouchi: It is better for us to refrain from making comments on the other side’s political system.
KT: What does the future hold for Japanese aid to Cambodia?
Mr Horinouchi: Japan supports the further strengthening of socio-economic foundations to achieve upper-middle income country status by 2030 while focusing on three priority areas. Firstly, industrial development with the aim of promoting regional connectivity and industrial development. Secondly, better quality of life with the aim of delivering improved quality of life and a better environment for those living in urban areas and lastly, fostering a sustainable society through the strengthening of governance with the aim of achieving a sustainable society through strengthening of governance in the medium- to long-term future.