Cambodia-Vietnam ties remain strong despite turbulence

Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Remain Strong Despite Turbulence

Thursday, 18 September 2014; News by Chheang Vannarith

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodia-Vietnam relations advanced over the years, especially in the economic field. Bilateral trade volume hit $3.43 billion in 2013. Vietnam’s foreign direct investment in Cambodia totals over $3 billion.

Vietnam is Cambodia’s third largest trading partner and its fifth biggest foreign investor. By 2015, bilateral trade is expected to reach $5 billion, and Vietnam’s total investment here is projected to hit $4 billion.

Last year, 854,000 Vietnamese tourists visited the Kingdom, the largest of any country. By the end of 2015, this number may double to reach 1.6 million.

On defense cooperation, Vietnam has provided Royal Cambodian Armed Forces with more than $21 million for military equipment, infrastructure development, training and capacity building. This year, Vietnam agreed to provide long-term training to 300 Cambodian officers.

Although bilateral ties strengthened over the decades, they remain vulnerable to domestic politics, nationalism, and external powers’ intervention.

Different political groups implanted in Cambodian historical memory the perception of a threat from Vietnam. More Vietnamese businessmen and more migrants to the Kingdom add to that threat perception.

Recent anti-Vietnam protests in Phnom Penh challenged the friendship between the two countries.

Protests started after the Vietnamese embassy spokesman here said that the Kampuchea Krom provinces in present-day Southern Vietnam were under Vietnamese control long before colonial France officially ceded them in 1949.

On August 12, protesters burned Vietnam’s flag in front of the Vietnamese embassy. The following day, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanded “strict (dealing) with the case by Cambodian authorities in accordance with the law and effective measures to prevent any recurrence.”

To cool tensions, Heng Samrin, president of the Cambodian National Assembly, visited Hanoi in late August to reaffirm Cambodia’s good neighbor policy.

At a meeting with Vietnam’s president, prime minister and the head of the National Assembly, Mr. Samrin highlighted positive developments of bilateral relations in all fields and reaffirmed Cambodia’s commitment to stay friends.

But, on Sept. 6, Thach Setha, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, announced his group will resume anti-Vietnam demonstrations in early October.

On September 11, Tran Van Thong reportedly was removed from his position as Vietnamese embassy spokesman in a diplomatic gesture to reduce tensions. The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs again asked Cambodia to “take effective measures to stop those wrongful actions of protesters.”

Although anti-Vietnam protests do not have much impact on the wider, positive trend of the bilateral relations, both countries need to work transparently resolve oustanding issues: border demarcation, cross-border migration, and economic land concessions granted to Vietnamese companies.

These issues should be resolved on mutual interests. Good bilateral relations between Vietnam and Cambodia serve the interests of both peoples – and positively contribute to building the ASEAN community.

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