Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and President Xi Jinping have agreed to promote each other’s civilizational connections. The two leaders met last week during the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) hosted by China. The event was attended by state leaders from Greece, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Armenia and Mongolia, over 2,000 delegates from 47 Asian, and many other non-Asian countries sent representatives.
On the sidelines of the CDAC, the tourism ministers of the two countries, Thong Khon and Luo Shugang met, and stressed the need to enhance communication by organizing major cultural and travel events to ensure that ‘China-Cambodia culture and tourism year 2019’ is a success.
Earlier this year, President Xi Jinping assured Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of China’s continued support for closer cooperation in culture, tourism, cultural heritage protection and restoration. China has been a key partner for Cambodia and helped it restore, renovate and preserve Cambodia’s cultural heritage particularly the temple complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap.
China has invested enormous cultural capital and pursued heritage diplomacy which involves setting up museums, organising cultural expos and festivals, helping restore heritage buildings and monuments, and support marine archaeology for recovering shipwrecks, to enable the present society to obtain a deeper understanding of Chinese cultural connections that spread far and wide across Asia and Europe through land and sea routes.
During the last two decades, Chinese experts from multi-disciplinary fields have provided archaeological and technical support for restoration of heritage buildings in Cambodia. During Phase 1 (1998-2008), they worked on the Chausay Tevada temple; in the second phase, Ta Keo temple was restored in eight years. The third phase is expected to be of 11 years, and involves protection and restoration of the Royal Palace in the temple complex. These temples were built in the first half of the 12thcentury by King Suryavarman II, and are symbolic of Hindu and Buddhist cultural influences in the region. In 1992, Angkor Archaeological Park was placed under UN World Heritage List.
Chinese archaeologists use advanced technologies for heritage restoration. For instance, 3D laser scanning and mapping, structural research and drone recording, are used to create 3D digital model for visualization of the Ta Keo temple. Jin Zhaoyu, a cultural relic protection engineer from the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH), has stated that it is a challenge to search and then match the fallen parts of the temples and putting them back to their correct positions. “Every stone is unique. If one stone is in the wrong position, the gap will grow wider as you restore the structure layer by layer and an accurate restoration will be impossible,”
As far as monitoring the impact of environment on the Angkor Wat temple complex is concerned, China uses its remote-sensing satellites and has provided assistance in setting up a ground station to receive and conduct restoration work which is operated by Cambodia’s Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA). This initiative is part a multi-stakeholder memorandum of understanding signed in 2014 between Chinese space and heritage agencies, UNESCO and Cambodia’s APSARA.
It is ironic that the rise of Asia is generally viewed from the prisms of geopolitics, economic issues and geostrategic competition. This is certainly a narrow view which precludes the civilization connections among the Asian countries. These were built on constants of geography, history, social practices, cultural connections and religious beliefs.
The sea was the common factor that facilitated movement of people, trade, exchange of ideas and beliefs, and Cambodia was central to the Indic and Chinese civilizations. Several Asian powers are now attempting to recall their ancient glory and notable among these are China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR); India’s Project ‘Mausam’; and Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum. These countries are harnessing the seas for a full realization of their position in the 21st century international system and demonstrate to the international community that during ancient times, they were highly interconnected and globalized and the seas had shaped their destiny in significant ways, and continue to do so.
In the 21st century, Cambodia can play a major role in the Asian Civilization Dialogue and relive its ancient glory and exhibit newfound vibrancies to shape the future.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is associated with the Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi, India.