Op-ed: CAMBODIA-SOUTH KOREA: Stronger Relations, Greater Mutual Interests, and the Importance of Love

Almost every time I commute to work the sign of the Cambodia and Republic of Korea flags at the construction site of the Cambodian National Blood Transfusion Centre at Preah Ang Duong Hospital in the capital, continues to grab my attention. When I get in the office, I get another news alert saying that last week Korea provided US$300,000 worth of help, including medical kits, for Cambodia’s fight against COVID-19.

As an observer while working as a government spokesman, I cannot wait to express my great feelings of gratefulness to the people of Korea through my writing. 

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two Asian nations. The ties between us are getting stronger on all fronts thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has championed the bridging and cementing of the diplomatic relationship with the leaders of the Republic of Korea since late 1996/97. 

In other words, the Premier, who himself led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations since the 1980s, is known as an old-hand man when it comes to diplomacy and has obtained many success stories since then, which continue today. 

It is worth recalling that since the Premier cemented diplomatic ties with the Republic of Korea, there has never been any friction/discontent in the relationship. This is not an act of God or chance, but through the mature diplomatic skills of two leaders who put the interests of their countries and their peoples before their own.

YOUNG RELATIONS, MATURE DIPLOMACY

Prime Minister Hun Sen, the architect of the re-establishment of bilateral ties, and with royal support from His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, played an important role in bringing about strong ties and developing mutual interests in many ways.

At one point, the Premier recalled: “Under the late President Roh Moo-Hyun, we celebrated direct flights between the two countries. When we came to the Presidency of Lee Myung Bak, I invited him to be one of my economic advisors.”

“Now, we are working with President Moon Jae-In. We are proud because Cambodia coordinated work between ASEAN and Korea in 2018. Cambodia played an invaluable coordinating role in organising the ASEAN-RoK Commemorative Summit in Busan in 2019,” says Prime Minister Hun Sen. Three Korean presidents have made official state visits to the Kingdom of Wonder, Cambodia. 

The Premier further said that, “We have also proposed to elevate the Mekong-Korea forum from ministerial level to those of heads of state or government.”

Such smooth relations contributed to increased bilateral trade value at more than US$1 billion, and investment value ranked second overall. More than 250 Korean companies operate in Cambodia’s major leading industries such as garment, agriculture, finance, among others.

Korea has supported health care, agriculture, transportation development, and sectors through its overseas development assistance organisation, the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Cambodia’s friendly foreign policy matches South Korea’s own, “Making Cambodia is the second largest development cooperation partner of Korea,” said Kim Jimin, Charge d’ Affairs at the National Day of the Republic of Korea, in October last year.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister recalled early this year that, from 1996 through to 2018, Seoul provided more than US$300 million in grants. In 2019, the grant was US$17 million and in 2020, South Korea has planned to provide another US$24 million. 

As for development financing, as of November 2019, said PM Hun Sen, Cambodia received US$889 million, of which we have used US$442 million already. 

For the period from 2019 through to 2023, Korea has earmarked a credit package of US$700 million for ten more projects, Premier Hun Sen told Cambodians living and working in Korea during his visiting in Korea.

ALSO, THE KNOTS OF LOVES

“Cambodia and South Korea have become countries-in-law,” the Premier told students and workers living in Korea. There are roughly 50,000 Cambodian workers in South Korea, along with several hundreds of students attending universities there. 

It is not bad at all, either, when more than 8,000 Cambodian and Koreans tied the knots of love and marriage as couples and have more than 10,000 children between them. This is what we mean by love and mutual respect.

Both leaders are also pleased to hear that the two-people relations have reached a peak, when the Prime Minister told President Moon Jae-in that, “those children would be bilingual in Korea and Khmer (Cambodian).”

UNIFIED KOREA

While, enjoying bilateral relations with South Korea, Cambodia also thinks of its other friend, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Cambodia always hoped both Koreas, that share the same culture on a shared peninsular, will live in harmony through peaceful talks, which will also contribute to regional peace and prosperity for global generations to come.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said, “On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I offer my congratulation and hope for the speedy improvement of relations, which is better than tension. This is the official position of the Royal Government of Cambodia on the most recent development in the Korean peninsula. I hope other countries also continue to encourage the two Koreas and take up the process for defusing tension.”

NOVEL “SHARED LOVES, DIVIDED LANDS”

To me as a Cambodian, I really want to see unified Korean one day, given that it is an issue that not only the two Koreas but the region and the world. I, myself, keep dreaming of walking hand-in-hand with brothers and sisters from both Koreas one day across the DMZ (demilitarised zone) of 1,000 sq. km, 250 km long and 4 km wide. The zone was created by the agreement North and China on one side, and the United Nations Command in 1953 as the result of the Korean war. 

I still hoped that the DMZ I described as “shared loves, divided lands” in my coming novel, in which I portrayed a South Korean soldier from the DMZ, who was on vacation to Cambodia. He fell in love with a North Korean girl who worked at the North Korean invested Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap province, the home of Angkor.

I will weave that novel into a more colourful, emotional, romance. My ultimate goal is to change the human perception, to see each other as friends and not foes.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press