Question 1: There have been Covid-19 outbreaks recently […] (You have introduced) lockdown. How and when will you overcome the crisis?
Answer: Thank you for the question. In fact, for more than a year, from 2020 until the beginning of 2021, Cambodia has managed very well with Covid-19 disease. To date, it has been three months since the outbreak, which we call the “February 20 community outbreak event.” Before the outbreak, Cambodia had only more than 500 infection cases. As of today, not adding today’s 400 cases yet, there are 23,282 infection and 189 deaths.
This situation forces us to take a number of measures, including lockdowns. Firstly, we try to prevent the transmission from province to province, then we closed down access in and out of Phnom Penh and part of Kandal province, and Sihanoukville. The closure cut off the transmission and reduced the spread, but we are not done yet. After three weeks of lockdown, we found that the rate of infection had just dropped but was not yet over. We cannot close the country for long. The difficulty was that it affected the economic life of the people, and it was even more so regarding the supply for people in the closed areas. In Phnom Penh, we have distributed gifts and assistances to more than 400,000 families. The distribution itself was not an easy task. We have to use the army to deliver those supply kits to the people. We are now thinking of cash support after removing the lockdowns.
After the blockade, we are left with small target lockdowns, which we need to pay attention to in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Our strategy is however extinguishing the fire rather than sitting and blowing smoke. We need to find a vaccine to vaccinate our people. To date, we have vaccinated more than 2.1 million Cambodians, or more than 21% of the 10 million people over the age of 18 to be inoculated. We aim to implement the blossoming flowers strategy by blanketing Phnom Penh with vaccines and then expanding vaccination to other areas. I hope that this vaccine measure will enable us to reduce the risk of infection and death for our citizens.
We deeply regret for such a catastrophe, which we consider a serious one for the Kingdom of Cambodia in our new phase. Thanks for the question.
Question 2: Regarding political geography in Southeast Asia […] what is the impact of the conflict between the two countries (US and China) on Asia, especially for Cambodia?
Answer: Indeed, decades ago, countries in our region benefited from good cooperation between the United States and China. This is true because China and the United States are considered locomotives of global economic growth. The two countries cooperated well, our region also benefits, including Cambodia. In recent years, we have also seen tensions between the two countries over trade and other areas, such as geopolitics. We see that it has an effect, as the proverb says – “when elephants fight, they crush grass.” We do not wait for the elephants to hit each other and trample us to death. We find a way to stay safe. Nevertheless, the impact is always for bearing on small countries in our regional framework, Cambodia included.
Cambodia hopes that the United States and China will work together to manage relations and re-establish mutually beneficial cooperation contributing to peace, stability and development in the region. I believe that the two countries will be eager to find a suitable solution to manage relations well, because in this world, no one country can oppose another until it vanishes. I am confident that the administration of President Biden will have new measures, despite the fact that there are still tensions from the Donald Trump’s administration.
I hope, however, that at some points there will be a decline, with the need for interdependence. China buys agricultural products from the United States, and the United States needs Chinese goods, so it is common to find (ways to) manage this relationship. Cambodia sees that it can benefit from the adjustment of Sino-US relations. Thank you.
Question 3: On relations with the EU […] (where it) suspended the EBA […] on some products, including clothing. (It) affects the Cambodian economy and (there have been) concerns recently about democracy in Cambodia regarding the sanctions. What do you think about this?
Answer: In fact, should there be no Covid-19 pandemic the suspension of parts of the EBA could have had little negative impacts on the Cambodian economy. I am using the word “little impacts on Cambodian economy” or “little impacts on trade relation between Cambodia and the European Union.” However, as the Covid-19 outbreaks, the suspension of parts of the EBA has had no (visible) effect at all due to the massive impacts of Covid-19 on the Cambodian as well as the world economy as a whole. The suspension of 20% of that trade no longer weighs heavily on the damage inflicted by Covid-19. Therefore, in order to speed up the socio-economic recovery, I believe that all countries in the region and the world need to increase their international cooperation in the fight against Covid-19 and to address related issues. They should avoid adherence of protectionist policies as tool to oppress.
At this point, we are aware of the criticism that the Cambodian government is oppressive. The sad thing, however, is that this unjust decision is not in line with the reality of Cambodia. This is their right, though. I have said from the beginning, it was in Tokyo then, that Cambodia does not trade its independence and sovereignty for any favors or assistance. I think Cambodia is still making steps forwards in the process of multi-party liberal democracy. You may look forward to next year, 2022, that there will be commune/sangkat elections, and, 2023, general elections again. With the 20 political parties contesting in 2018, there will be new political parties formed by banned politicians, who have applied for political rights. Yesterday, I sent to the HM the King two political rights seekers and I learned that they were planning to form a political party. Therefore, the multi-party liberal democratic process implemented in Cambodia continues.
Therefore, I do not object and do not demand a return of the 20% favor. Cambodia is prepared for the non-return of EU favor by not negotiating, not protesting or opposing to their decision. We continue to export 20% of our goods to the EU by paying taxes. We have a hard time, but we cannot accept that (as) a country (we) cannot enforce its own laws. Are we a state? An independent and sovereign state is a state that can enforce the law on its own. If we cannot enforce the law on our own, one should dissolved the state and place it under control of another. This is an issue that one country should not ignore the sovereignty of another. I think they will listen to our voices. Thank you.
Question 4: Some say that Cambodia seems to be too dependent on China. What is your opinion on the concerns of the international community?
Answer: Well, on the question that Cambodia is too dependent on China. I should speak with honesty here that if I do not rely on China, who should I rely on. Let us speak the truth here. If I do not rely on China, who should I rely on. Should I leave Cambodians crossing the river, the canal by boats, crossing using dangerous bamboo or wooden bridge, and without a walkway? Let me inform you that in the 1990s, Japan provided a lot of assistance to build infrastructure for our country and there are two major bridges, the Kizuna Bridge in Kampong Cham province, the Tsubasa Bridge connecting between Kandal and Prey Veng Provinces. Other than that, for the bridges along the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Tonle Bassac rivers are all bridges built with the Chinese assistance. More than 3,000 kilometers of roads helped built by China. The question is therefore if there were no Chinese assistance, who we can rely on. Can the world answer these questions for Cambodia?
We have not closed the door on anyone as far as receiving aid/assistance is concerned to build Cambodia. Like Japan, it is currently busy building National Road 5, which connects Kandal province to the Cambodian-Thai border, after the construction of National Road 1 and several other roads. This is a true story that we should bring to attention. (It is said) that Cambodia depends on China. If (Cambodia) does not depend on China, (what are we to do? Do our) people continue to cross the river by boat/ferry, to have no (paved) roads to travel on. While using such language, countries and/or analysts concerned should help find answer to this question for Cambodia. What should Cambodia do otherwise to have roads, bridges, and infrastructure such as canals and dams, etc.?
Furthermore, I should bring up that there have been reports that Cambodia has provided a location for China to use as a naval base. I would like to reiterate that the Constitution of Cambodia does not allow anyone to use or station (its troops) on its territory, nor does it allow Cambodia to station (troops) in any other countries. With the exception of (missions under the flag of) the United Nations, Cambodia now has troops in Lebanon, South Sudan, Mali and Central Africa. We do not deploy troops there outside the United Nations framework. For our maritime base, we welcome all foreign ships wishing to dock in our country’s ports. Not only China can access. Japanese ships used to dock at our port. The accusation on this issue is unfair for us and for China.
Even the vaccine aid that we have secured for the inoculation of more than two million people, we would not have vaccinated this number of people, if it were without the help and supply from China (through our request for) sales, besides the more than 300,000 doses provided from Covax. Has any country sent its vaccines to Cambodia yet? […] Well, when one uses the word that Cambodia depends on China, it is because China has something for Cambodia depend on. If China has nothing, how can Cambodia depend on it? I think (concerned countries and people) should review this.
One should put on a good pair of glasses to look at Cambodia’s foreign policy and figure out what sort of attitude one should adhere for Cambodia. Cambodia has never closed its doors. We never say no to grants/assistance, business, investment. Whoever is passing us his/her hands, we welcome. We say yes to all except for the terrorists. Recently, Japan has provided anti-Covid-19 assistance, including ambulances that arrived about a week ago. We never refuse those offers. Whoever gives us help, we receive. The United States seems to have announced a provision of US$ 11 million, but the money is not where to see. We accept all. We do not deny.
We have also requested vaccine from the United States, something like four million doses, but so far, we have not received any words from the United States. Yesterday, the US Embassy posted on its Facebook page that 1.1 million doses of the US vaccine would arrive in the near future. When we try to get confirmation, it was not a sure thing yet. We welcome the forthcoming arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccines. We welcome all. Whoever gives assistance to Cambodia, we welcome. Having said so no one can accuse us of depending on so and so. Whoever gives us, we receive.
Let everyone be clear that in the 1990s and early 2000s, we relied heavily on Japan. Japan has provided major grants. Japan continues to do so now. After China, with aid and loans for development, Japan has played an important role in the development of Cambodia. Why was it that they did not say that we were leaning towards Japan at that time? Until recently, China offered aid/assistance to Cambodia they suddenly accused Cambodia of leaning towards China. It is unfair for Cambodia. This is what I wanted to emphasize here./.