Prime Minister Hun Sen will be visiting Japan early next month to further strengthen the partnership between the two countries. It will be his ninth meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Trade and investment, quality infrastructure development and human resources development will be the key issues to be discussed.
The visit also marks the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Japan sending its first peacekeeping forces to Cambodia in 1992 and the 60th anniversary of the first state visit by Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi to Cambodia in 1957.
Japan is one of the oldest friends of Cambodia. Established in 1953, diplomatic relations have been steadily enhanced, particularly after the signing of the strategic partnership in 2013.
The other two key agreements that enable economic cooperation between the two countries are the agreement on liberalisation, promotion and protection of investment in June 2007 and the agreement on air services in June 2016.
Exchanges of high level visits have been carried out since then. Prime Minister Abe visited Cambodia in November 2013, while Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Japan three times, in December 2013, March 2015 and July 2015.
Political trust has been continuously enhanced between the two leaders. Despite leadership changes in Japan over the decades, the partnership has been maintained and nurtured.
The Japanese government has been convincing Japanese corporations to invest in Cambodia. However, Cambodia’s weak infrastructure and governance remains an obstacle for Japanese investors.
There are more than 200 Japanese companies registered as members of the JBAC (Japan Business Association in Cambodia). It reflects the increasing interest of Japanese investors in Cambodia.
The light industrial sector, such as the manufacturing of car parts and components and electrical parts, is a strategic sector for the Cambodian economy as it is moving from a labour-intensive industry to a skill-based manufacturing industry.
The trade volume is at about $1.3 billion. Japan provided more than $1.7 billion in grants, more than $600 million in technical assistances and about $900 million in loans.
Japan is the core supporter of Cambodia’s peacekeeping operation (PKO), which has become one of the core pillars of Cambodia’s defence diplomacy. Japan continues implementing Defence Capacity Building Assistance in the field of civil engineering that is instrumental to PKO activities.
At the bilateral summit in 2016 in Mongolia, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his support for Japan’s Proactive Contribution to Peace and Legislation for Peace and Security, which are the key policy and legal instruments to enhance Japan’s role in international security.
In terms of democratic consolidation, Japan has significantly contributed to electoral reform at the request of the Cambodian government. After the controversial national election in 2013, the Cambodian government requested Japan to be the first foreign country to provide electoral reform assistance.
Japan agreed to the support through the provision of technical advice to the National Election Committee (NEC), the dispatching of JICA experts and equipment, including a computer server and related equipment, a back-up system and firewall to store voter registration data.
Japan is also a main supporter of the Khmer Rouge trials by providing about 32 percent of the total international assistance for the international court since it started in 2006. Japan provided $85.12 million to the international side and $16.54 million to the domestic side.
For bilateral cooperation at the local level, Kitakyushu and Phnom Penh formed a sister-city relationship in 2015 to widen and deepen the relationship at both the national and local levels.
Japan is one of the core strategic partners for Cambodia as this small kingdom is thriving to realise its strategic diversification vision and hedging strategy.
So far, Cambodia has only two comprehensive strategic partners: China and Japan. Hence, Japan has a critical role to play in helping Cambodia to effectively implement its balanced and neutral foreign policy.
The main strategic difference between the two countries is their perception of and approach towards the South China Sea disputes. For instance, Japan fully supports the award by the Arbitral Tribunal between the Philippines and China, while Cambodia does not.
Overall, Cambodia-Japan ties are positively developing on all fronts from economic cooperation to political and strategic partnership. Japan has won the hearts of Cambodian people, while it has earned political trust from a wide range of political groups in the kingdom.
The upcoming summit between the two countries in Tokyo will mark another milestone in the 54-year-old diplomatic relationship.