The Economic and Commercial Counsellor’s Office of the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia recently organised an essay competition for government officials who have undergone training in China. Below is an edited version of the second of two essays which were provided by the embassy for publication.
Cambodia has an old saying that an acquaintance is greeted at the gate while a close friend is welcome into the house. The saying reflects the memory of my latest visit to Beijing, People’s Republic of China. I felt like I was in a distant relative’s house sharing dinner and discussing a family story.
For three weeks from November 9 to 31, last year, I was fortunate to be selected to participate in a course on China Public Policy and Administration for Developing Countries, which was hosted by Renmin University of China.
It was an enriching experience to join a group of 30 officials from 10 other developing countries to explore China and learn about the country.
The journey started off in Beijing Friendship Hotel. The hotel is remembered not only for its luxurious amenities and services, but also because of its long history. The architecture and decorations resemble a palace which is often seen in Chinese movies about emperors. Along the corridor to the dining hall, there were photos of VIP guests who had been welcomed by top Chinese leaders.
Photos of Cambodian former leaders with Chairman Mao evoked a thought in me that maybe someday I would be the next Cambodian who carries the Cambodia-China relationship forward.
On lecture days, I sat in the front row and often kept my eyes on the professors who usually talked with gestures and engaged participants with questions.
The lectures emphasised on theory and practice and encouraged participants to reflect on what they would do in an actual situation.
Based on discussions, the professors summarised a few policy options and elaborated how policy decisions could be reached and implemented. I was amazed at the systematic process of political and administrative management in the Chinese government (which I reported back to the Secretary General of CDC/CRDB).
During a trip to Tian Jing city, participants were exposed to a rapidly urbanising process where the local government was making effort to redevelop an urban village and preserve the traditional culture of the Chinese Muslim community. It was my first time to eat in Muslim restaurant and later become involved in Chinese traditional painting. In the evening, there was a boat tour during which participants could view the high-rise buildings and beautiful lightings along the river. The exhausting day ended with eating hotpot for dinner. While the eating arrangement was quite new to participants from North America and Africa, I managed to show them how we could cook and enjoy the foods as per my appetite.
It is also worth mentioning about personal hangout activities as well. During the three-week period, I was able to use my limited knowledge of the Chinese language to visit more places than scheduled by the organiser and to also go shopping at markets as well as at Hu Tong. Since I usually conversed with my colleagues in the Cambodian language, senior Chinese people along the street often approached and had small talk with us. They seemed to like foreigners so much, and especially when they knew we are Jian Pu Zhai Ren (Cambodian) , more questions were followed up with warm smiles. Even though I could not fully understand their questions, I was sure that they really loved Xi Ha Nu (the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk).
With all the lesson learnt and experience accumulated, I would like to reflect on the result of my participation and highlight a few takeaways from the seminar. This seminar course consists of many lectures. In the process, participants may learn everything, but selectively choose the most applicable lesson for their countries. It is like eating a hotpot; meat, vegetable and ingredient are given, so participants could choose whether to eat whatever is put into the pot or they cook what they want to eat in their own way.
For me, I find lectures on public finance, social security and urbanization most relevant to Cambodia because as my country becomes more industrialised, the Royal Government needs to rely more on domestic development resources for transforming the economy and providing better public services. Issues of work safety and urban management also require much policy attention. The China experience is insightful for the Royal Government to advance revenue mobilisation and to prioritise expenditure programmes for maximum impacts.
The seminar also provided an opportunity for promoting mutual understanding which is the core value of effective development cooperation. The Cambodia-China partnership has continued for many generations. As the two countries are trading, exchanging culture and helping each other in most urgent circumstances, I am proud to uphold the endurance of the relationship further in line with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of the two governments.
In short, I am grateful to the People’s Republic of China and Ministry of Commerce, in particularly, for opening the gate and welcoming me into their house. It was an unforgettable journey during which I came to appreciate Chinese food, stories and lessons more than ever.
Mr Chea Sokpheng
Council for the Development of Cambodia