It is for the first time in nearly 500 years that Cambodia has obtained complete peace and stability, along with remarkable socio-economic development thanks to the leadership of Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia. It is worth recalling that Premier successfully embarked on the win-win policy by putting an end to the political and military organisation of the Khmer Rouge in late 1990s, followed by robust economic development, regional integration and international engagement.
Socio-economic development and poverty reduction over the past two decades would not have been possible without peace and stability. The Kingdom’s stability along with the rule of law, especially the pro-poor and pro-investment policies, has contributed to poverty reduction and social development. The government has constantly reformed its institutions to deliver better public services for the people.
Human right and democracy are not independent from peace and development.
The average GDP per Cambodian citizen is more than $1,560 and this is expected to rise to over $2,000 by 2023. Poverty line is now said below 10 per cent from 100 per cent after the fall of Khmer Rouge in early 1979.
In 1979, Cambodia faced many difficulties through to the 1980s. On one hand, the country tried to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge to power and on the other hand, the Cambodian people were rebuilding their nation from scratch.
In this respect, the hard-earned peace and political stability must be constantly protected, such as enforcing the rule of law to prevent violent extremism and violent regime change through colour revolutions and coup d’etat. This corresponds to the statement of Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur, that never supporst any use of force or violence as a means to topple a government.
Balanced view on Cambodia
The international community should have a balanced view on Cambodia. Acknowledging the achievements that Cambodia has made and providing constructive criticism based on facts should be encouraged.
Cambodia is an open economy. It welcomes foreign direct investments from all countries, without discrimination. The investment law presents opportunities and incentives to all investors.
Given the fact that from 2016 to August 2019, Cambodia has approved 831 projects with an investment value of $22.5 billion has contributed to the country’s development to a great extent.
Cambodia achieved an economic growth rate of 7.7 per cent per annum. Cambodia received more than 6 million foreign tourists a year thanks to the country’s peace, safety and political stability in addition to its cultural heritages, both tangible and intangible.
Asean must respect non-interference principle
ASEAN is the cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy. After becoming a member of this inter-governmental organisation in 1999, Cambodia has expanded its diplomatic outreach to the region and major powers, reformed its institutions to deepen regional integration, and promote ASEAN unity and centrality.
The principle of non-interference is the foundation of the survival of Asean. All Asean member states must strictly adhere to this principle, otherwise Asean’s unity, cohesiveness and centrality will be seriously affected. Asean member states must strengthen internal solidarity against foreign interference.
Contribution to world peace
Cambodia, a country that went through three decades of civil war, understands and embraces the value of peace. From the recipient of the UN peacekeeping forces to a sending country of peacekeeping forces is something that Cambodia should be proud of. From the victim of landmines, now Cambodia has shared its expertise on demining within the Asean and UN frameworks.
The UN has praised Cambodia’s peace keeping forces for its work overseas. Cambodia, despite being a developing nation, is making a significant contribution to the U.N. international peacekeeping programs and to date has already dispatched more than 5,000 Cambodian peace-keeping troops to operate under the U.N. umbrella in Sudan, Central Africa, Lebanon, and other nations.
Cambodia regards the EU as an important partner. It is expected that the EU will not remove the trade preferences of the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) granted to Cambodia. Many EU member countries continue to develop bilateral relations with Cambodia on a wide range of spectrum. As the member of Asean, Cambodia is interested to see deepened Asean -EU partnership.
Cambodia, under the EBA, a preferential trade deal of tariff and duty free, can export goods to the EU market worth of more than $6 billion a year.
More than 700,000 Cambodian workers are employed in the garment and footwear sectors. Minimum wage has been increased over the years at a remarkable rate. The living conditions of the workers have been improved.
The economic spill over effect of the garment and footwear sectors on the whole economy is significant. These sectors also help promote women empowerment, given most of the factory workers are women coming from the rural areas.
From a humanitarian perspective, the EU should continue to provide trade preferential treatment to Cambodia in order to sustain economic development and poverty reduction. EBA also plays an important role in helping Cambodia achieve its sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2030. The EU should understand that the removal of EBA will seriously affect the livelihood of about one million Cambodian workers.
We urge the international community to respect the right of Cambodia to choose its own development path, its future and decide its own destiny. As a post-conflict country, Cambodia’s peace and stability remain fragile due to rising political extremism, polarisation, populist politics, and foreign intervention. The international community should further assist Cambodia to fight against the threats derived from populism and extremism.
The Cambodian government recognizes and understands that multiparty political system is crucial for long-term peace and development. However, the democratic journey in Cambodia has been challenged by the rise of populist politics and political extremism. We need to consolidate our democracy by improving the quality of people’s participation, strengthening public institutions as well as the institutional capacity of leadership of political parties.
Peace, development, and democracy are interconnected. We need find a stable balance among these three elements. Moving forward, the Cambodian government will continue to work closely with the international community to consolidate the foundations of peace, development and democracy, further expand international role of Cambodia especially in peacekeeping and the preservation of human heritages.
The world is facing mounting challenges and uncertainties. But one thing is certain is that open multilateralism and rules-based international order will prevail, and Cambodia is willing to work harder to nurture these common global goods.
Ek Tha is the standing vice chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit (RGSU). The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect that of Khmer Times.