The Kingdom of Cambodia is known for its good relation¬ships with other nations. With India being one of its strongest bilateral partners, Khmer Times spoke to its ambassador H.E. Manika Jain, the iron lady responsible for various efforts which continue to strengthen the rapport.
Assigned as the Indian Ambassador to Cambodia in 2017, Ms Jain attributed the solid Cambodia- India relationship, especially in recent years, to the number of high-level visits between the two countries.
These, she said, included Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to India in January last year, followed by visits by the Indian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Civil Aviation, the Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister to Cambodia.
“During the same year, the Secretary of Tourism and Director-General of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) also visited Cambodia.
“It is unprece¬dented that so many high-level visits have been undertaken between the two countries in one year. This has really ener¬gised our relationship and we are sure to have better and direct connectivity between the two countries in the fore¬seeable future,” she told Khmer Times in an exclusive interview.
These high-level visits have successfully accelerated the ties between both coun¬tries, as evident in their respective outcomes.
For instance, Ms Jain said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had agreed to double the number of projects to finance in the Kingdom after meeting his Cambodian counterpart last year.
“Since 2015, India’s key aid programme is the “Quick Impact Projects” under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. In this scheme, India used to finance five projects every year till 2018. However, during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit, the Indian Prime Minister announced ten projects every year from 2018 onwards.
“Cambodia can choose the projects in the fields of socio-economic develop¬ment , gender empow¬erment, rural devel¬opment and any other areas which are in consonance with sustainable devel¬opment goals (SDGs),” she added.
On the subject of cultural exchange, Ms Jain said there has been a wide gamut of engagements involving culture, language and heritage, among others. Currently, India’s ASI team is working hard to continue with the conservation and preservation of Ta Prohm temple and commence work in parts of Preah Vihear temple.
“I just visited the restora¬tion site at Ta Prohm last week and it is going really well. This is the third phase of the works and everything is going as per plan,” she quipped.
“India, as co-chair of the International Coordinating Committee on Preah Vihear will ensure that the temple and the development of Ko Khair sites are restored to international standards and the Cambodian heritage is not lost for future genera¬tions.”
Ms Jain also pointed out a handful of other initiatives to foster cultural exchanges such as the Indian Chair of Buddhist and Sanskrit studies at PSRB University, an Indian classical dance lesson at Royal University of Phnom Penh, free yoga classes for Cambodians at various venues and many others.
She cited the providing of Indian resources, persons and expertise at the Mekong- Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum (MGATTM) and training the museum staff in conservation and preservation works as other examples.
The Cambodia-India rela¬tionship, however, goes beyond the cultural mutuality. It covers every other aspect in society including commu¬nity, education and defence, among others.
Concurrently, India is assisting in installing water hand-pumps in three prov¬inces. It is also extending soft loans for power transmission and several other infrastruc¬ture projects.
Every year, Ms Jain said, India trains between 100 to 150 government officials and starting from last year, they have introduced short-term customised training programmes for Cambodian officials in the subjects requested by them.
India also offers 25 schol¬arships each year to Cambodian students to under¬take graduate, post-graduate and research studies in any of the Indian universities.
Having donated 15 sniffer dogs in 2016, India has also been assisting Cambodia in de-mining activ¬ities including training. It should be noted that India is also a contributor to the National Budget of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Recalling the first time she set foot in Cambodia, Ms Jain said her perception of the Kingdom was not far off from the reality, especially since she had previously served in other ASEAN countries and had the opportunities to travel in the ASEAN region exten¬sively.
“However, since I had not visited Cambodia before, I was a little surprised to see the booming construction activity in Phnom Penh and a number of four-wheel drives on the road.
“The beauty of Cambodian temples is more than I could have imagined. The warmth, friendliness, and utter openness of Cambodian people towards foreigners despite its difficult past was also a welcome change,” she said.
She expressed regret that there is not much information about Cambodia in other countries except about being it home to the beautiful Angkor Wat and it once witnessed a brutal past under the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s.
“Since not much informa¬tion is available other than the tourist literature, the complexity of the Cambodian culture and way of life can only be discerned by physi¬cally living in the country,” she said.
While acknowledging that Cambodia is receiving reasonable investments in infrastructure, especially in the construction industry, Ms Jain said the Kingdom could do more with investments in social sectors, particularly health and education.
With India’s expertise in both sectors, Ms Jain said her country has been able to assist by providing cost-effective solutions in capacity-building, communications and information and digital technologies.
She added that India has also been successful in marrying these technologies with the rural and agricultural sectors, resulting in enhanced productivity.
“My efforts would be [to ensure] that Cambodia is able to receive benefits from these Indian experiences. However, since these social sectors do not attract profit-making enterprises, financial invest¬ments in such technologies are the biggest impediment in Cambodia. Credit avail¬ability through financial institutions is not evolved in Cambodia,” she said.
Ms Jain said, however, that she sees high potentials in the Kingdom.
“I would say that Cambodia is a growing market with a young and aspiring population and stable government with investor-friendly policies.
“The biggest advantage is its open and dollarised economy with a level-playing field for all foreign inves-tors,” she said, adding that Cambodia’s geographic location can be utilised advantageously to cater to the six hundred million strong and growing market of the region.
Ms Jain also noted that with the emerging Cambodian market, the dynamics of the healthcare sector are starting to grow too. In view of this, she called on Indians in the pharmaceutical sector to expand their business activi¬ties to meet new demands in the Kingdom.
“We encourage both Indian businesses in Cambodia and also from India to invest in other health¬care activities. A study was conducted by EXIM Bank of India to provide a proper direction for Indian entrepre¬neurs to the opportunities in the healthcare sector of Cambodia.
“The results have been encouraging as we see various hospitals and health¬care providers from India have opened dialogue with Cambodian stake¬holders in the sector. So I’m hopeful that my efforts will bear fruits in the coming months,” she said.