Cambodia’s youngest ambassador, Long Dimanche, gained a master’s degree in international relations from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Internationale in France in 2004. He also has a bachelor’s degree in economic science, gained in France in 2001.
Mr Dimanche worked in City Hall from 2005 to 2016 as an assistant to the governor, deputy director of cabinet, deputy director-general of administration and spokesman.
As a young and talented official with experience in communication, he was appointed ambassador to South Korea in May last year.
His father Long Visalo is Ambassador to Thailand. Mr Dimanche spoke in Korea about reforms and the way he deals with Cambodian communities in Korea.
KT: How many Cambodians live in Korea, including students, women who have married Korean men, and workers?
Dimanche: The Cambodian community in Korea totals more than 60,000 people. Of these, more than 53,000 are workers, about 8,000 are women with Korean husbands and about 400 are students. Workers are employed in three sectors, construction, agriculture, and small and medium industries. They are recruited to work through the employment permit system set up under an agreement between both governments so that no private recruitment firms are involved.
KT: What are the challenges for workers here and how are their problems solved?
Dimanche: There are positive and negatives on a daily basis. The embassy has an adviser from the Ministry of Labour to work with us to resolve matters for workers, and we cooperate with the Centre for Overseas Workers.
Daily issues for workers can be changes in work conditions, managers abusing working conditions, and delays in paying salaries. When these problems happen workers come to the embassy for help.
Sometimes there is violence involving managers and workers but this is not such a serious problem.
We have set up a network for women married to Korean husbands because some live in rural areas and some live in suburbs.
We did this so that the embassy could communicate with them and follow the ups and downs in their lives. When they have a problem we can get in touch with them easily.
We cannot get in touch with all 60,000 but we are connected with a large number of them.
KT: What services do they get from the embassy, and what has the embassy done for them?
Dimanche: The role of the embassy is mainly protecting their rights and interests, whether they are workers, women with Korean husbands or students, as well as business people who come here.
We bargain on behalf of workers and their families. If a worker has died, perhaps of disease or through danger at work or in a traffic accident, we contact the Ministry of Labour to find their families.
When an incident happens suddenly, families cannot do anything, so they give the embassy the right to do the paperwork. Embassy staff visit the site of the incident to collect information and cooperate with Korean authorities on paperwork.
We represent the family of victims demanding compensation from employers via insurance.
Other services we provide include extending passports and various paperwork. Sometimes people have babies born here but they cannot get a birth certificate, so we do a letter of confirmation for them so that when they come back to Cambodia they can apply for a birth certificate.
Some workers are able to buy a car for their personal use so we confirm their driving licence so that they can drive in Korea. The embassy can issue an emergency passport in cases of loss.
KT: What are the benefits for workers here compared with other countries in terms of wages and conditions?
Dimanche: In Korea, the working conditions are better than in other countries. People are recruited based on the agreement between the governments, so the conditions are clear and strict. Their salary here is a maximum of $1,200 to $1,300 per month in agriculture. In industry it would be $1,700 or $1,800.
Annually they send around $300 million via the banking system to their families, but I think it is more because they also send money in other ways.
The second aspect is professional skills. They work here under the control of the Human Resources Development Agency.
This means they do not come here just to sell their labour. They are trained and get a salary, and when they return to Cambodia they are on the priority list for Korean firms investing in Cambodia.
Workers are not sent here through nepotism or bribery. Exams to come here are set in Cambodia by Korean and Cambodian controllers.
In Korea, if a company or employer is accused of violating workers they could face fines or be shut down.
Employers are required to provide accommodation for workers and the embassy has regular contact with the Korean Human Resource Development Agency, which controls all foreign workers, to follow up on their living and working conditions.
KT: There is a Cambodian Association in Korea. How many of members are involved and what is their work with the embassy?
Dimanche: I estimated there are more than 40 associations. The embassy is working with them as a network. We have reached out to more than 30 associations. Most of them preserve Khmer culture and tradition. Some are involved in art or on protecting women. Associations have been established by workers, by women married to Koreans, and by students.
They are willing to work in the embassy to serve people’s interest and provide legal counselling. The embassy has many hands because of all the associations within the embassy.
KT: Some workers led by the opposition party are protesting against the government. Why they are doing so?
Dimanche: The government of Cambodia is always cooperating with Korean authorities to increase the quota of workers employed here. It is a good opportunity for workers and many Cambodian want to work here.
They get many benefits, so in turn they must support government policy. However we recognise that some of them have not analysed deeply what we have provided for them.
They are being incited and used as an opposition political tool. We don’t want them falling for this.
I want them to not get involved with protests because it affects them. We want them take time for personal pleasures and to prepare their future rather than protest.
They come here for one or two periods, roughly eight to nine years, so we want them to bring back something such as money and work experience, rather than letting someone persuade them.
Those persuading them do so out of personal interest. When there is problem they don’t share it.
KT: The situation on the Korean peninsula is intense. Do you worry about the safety of Cambodian workers here and if war breaks out what will you do to protect workers?
Dimanche: Politicians, economists, analysts as well as diplomats have exchanged views on this matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea has also informed the embassies here about the issue of security and the political tensions on the Korean peninsula.
As of now, we predict only a war of words. Cambodia is in line with Asean and the international community in asking North Korea to abide by the resolutions of the UN Security Council to stop testing missiles and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.
We think that there is no better way than negotiation to find peace rather than threatening war. If there is war, there will be no winner, only losers, so we think it is unlikely to happen.
But if war erupts, the Korean authorities will first inform us and we will report to our government and ask for advice.
We will plan to evacuate people by consulting Korean experts on how to move them to safe places, whether underground or finding a hill site.
But the probability is that war will not happen, so the workers should stay calm and keep working.
KT: In your term as ambassador here, what have been your reforms and relations with the Korean government?
Dimanche: Firstly, I am making reforms within the embassy. If we don’t reform ourselves how can we reform others?
We have to look at whether we charge for services such as passport extensions. When Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Korea in 2014 and met Cambodian people here he instructed the embassy that people should not need to come in person to extend passports.
Previously, passport extension took three days but it is faster since I came.
Most weeks we hold public forums with the Cambodian community and share food and listen to their complaints.
Our second reform is working as a team. We spend time meeting the community here and sharing information. We also explain political developments so that they can better understand the situation in our country.
On political and diplomatic issues with Korea, we support and help each other.
On issues such as the Korean peninsula we join Asean nations to express concern and have urged all parties to abide by the UN resolutions and turn to negotiation. This is the way Korea needs our support.
In trade, Korea exports more to Cambodia than we send to Korea, so I have suggested Korea considers lifting some conditions so that Cambodia can export agricultural products to the Korean market and that by 2018 mangoes from Cambodia will come to Korea.
We will negotiate further to import other products such as pepper.