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COVID-19 brings out the best in Cambodia: Small Country, Big Heart

Prime Minister Hun Sen with passengers and crew of the Westerdam, Sihanoukville port. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Amidst all the sad headlines on coronavirus or COVID-2019 outbreak, a Japanese song “Ue o Muite Arukou” by Kyu Sakamoto or known as “Sukiyaki” released in 1961 keeps ringing in my head.

“I look up when I walk, So that the tears won’t fall, Remembering those spring days,…..Happiness lies beyond the clouds, Happiness lies above the sky……Sadness lies in the shadow of the stars, Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon”.

How could we put our heads up amidst the sad and sudden circumstances?

When human lives are concerned, we cannot avoid being emotional. Worse still, the world is fighting a novel virus that has much to be known. The panic and fear, health and medical risks, economic risks, containment measures, confidence on authorities are complex issues to handle and how to handle them with maximum calmness and assurance require an extremely strong nerve.

Under the snow, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his entourage visited Beijing on 5 February, without masks. Cambodia is lending moral support with “foot on the ground”, being the first and by far the only foreign leader to visit China after the outbreak when many countries have been distancing themselves from China, issuing travel ban, etc.
His Majesty the King Norodom Sihamoni and Her Majesty Queen Mother even donated their personal wealth to the cause.
Another event has turned the world upside down. A small country that is often portrayed negatively in international media shocked the world with awe.

Cambodia dared to receive all passengers and crew aboard Holland America’s MS Westerdam cruise ship, which docked in Sihanoukville, after medical clearance that showed that none of them were infected with COVID-19. The MS Westerdam, owned by Holland America Line, was turned away by five countries before finally docking in Cambodia, with 1,455 guests and 802 crew members of 41 nationalities on board.

They were welcome with Khmer traditional scarves “Kroma”, and roses on Valentine’s day,“day of love.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, wrote on his Twitter, “Cambodia exemplifies the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for. I am deeply grateful to the government, particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen, for accepting the Westerdam and its passengers. It’s time for solidarity, not stigma.”

US Ambassador Patrick Murphy wrote various notes on his Twitter, “We greatly appreciate the support of the Cambodian authorities and people in assisting all passengers on the Westerdam”, and “Heartwarming sights in Sihanoukville as passengers begin disembarking from the Westerdam – with Cambodian hospitality on full display.”
The Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia wrote on their Facebook page, “The EU Delegation to Cambodia would like to thank the Cambodian authorities for authorising the docking of the Westerdam, and to express its sympathy to the passengers and crew members of the ship, hoping they will soon be safely repatriated.”

Human rights and human life actually has similar a rhyme.

Humanity and compassion is in full blown and it humbly shines from Cambodia, “a small country with a big heart.”

Sim Vireak
Strategic Advisor of Asian Vision Institute (AVI)

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