Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Cambodia amid regional tensions

 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen this Saturday. It was a second meeting between the two leaders. They first met in Tokyo in June in 2007 then they issued a joint statement covering four issues namely “realizing fundamental values”, “enhancing economic relations”, “promoting mutual understanding”, and “addressing regional and global issues”. In the recent joint statement, it adds political security cooperation issue. It shows the increasing strategic and security interests of Japan in the region.

Abe’s visit aimed to foster closer ties between the two governments and peoples as well as to strengthen comprehensive strategic partnership between Japan and ASEAN. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of the bilateral diplomatic relations between Japan and Cambodia and 40th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN bilateral partnership. Abe has completed his Southeast Asian trips with less than one year after he resumed his premiership in December last year. It sends a clear signal to the region that Japan is not only economic but also security actor in the Asia-Pacific.  Such strategic move is pushed by the changing strategic and economic landscapes in the region especially within the context of the United States’ rebalancing towards Asia, the rise of China, and increasing relevant strategic and economic role of ASEAN.

Japan is one of the key development partners of Cambodia. Since the Paris Peace agreement in 1991, Japan has played significant role in the post-conflict peace building and national reconstruction process in Cambodia.  Since 1993, Japan has committed US$ 2.8 billion development assistance to Cambodia in both grant and loans.

At the summit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Cambodia for a peaceful election in last July with reservation on the issues of election irregularities. Cambodia took first step in requesting Japan to support its electoral reform process. Prime Minister Hun Sen applauded the maturity of democracy in Japan and expected Japan can share its experiences and expertise in democratic building process to Cambodia.

In their joint statement, both parties agreed to promote comprehensive cooperation in four different fields including political security, economic and development cooperation, democracy and human rights, and people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges.  Japan supports Cambodia in landmines clearance, capacity building of the Cambodian peacekeeping forces, the improvement of good governance, strengthening the rules of law and democratic process, improvement of social welfare and healthcare, and invites 3000 Cambodian youths to Japan in the coming five years.

Concerning regional security issues, both countries stressed on peaceful means and rules based approach towards regional disputes including regional maritime disputes in South and East China Seas. Both leaders shared their common position about the North Korea nuclear and abduction issue, and the United Nations reform. Cambodia expressed its continued support to Japan in an effort to seek a permanent member seat at the UN Security Council.

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