The Khmer Times, 17 June 2016
Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang wrapped up his first trip to Cambodia, after Laos, yesterday. His trip marked a milestone in deepening and widening bilateral relations between the two countries.
During his two-day visit to Phnom Penh, President Quang met with King Norodom Sihamoni and exchanged views with National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Senate President Say Chhum and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The leaders of both countries reaffirmed their commitment to nurture traditional friendship between the two countries, deepen comprehensive strategic partnership and cooperate more closely at the international platforms to peacefully address international issues.
Vietnam and Cambodia share common foreign policy objectives, which are the enhancement of regional and sub-regional institutions in maintaining regional peace and stability, harnessing regional integration and transforming regional dynamics into a source of state reforms and national development.
Both countries also advocate for a multipolar world order in which more than one or two global powers work together to maintain international order. More roles and responsibilities should be given to the emerging economies. More emphasis should be given to global governance and regional institutions.
However, in practice these two countries are taking a slightly different approach. Vietnam is heavily hedging against China through the strengthening of economic and defense ties with the US, Japan and India. Cambodia, on the other hand, heavily depends on China for economic interests.
Cambodia and Vietnam have different approaches towards the disputes in the South China Sea. Cambodia, as a non-claimant state, is reluctant to promote the South China Sea agenda at the international forums.
Cambodia is not interested in seeing the South China Sea disputes dominate regional architecture and harm a good overall relationship between China and Asean relations.
Such strategic divergence between the two countries creates a certain level of distrust and tension. Moreover, domestic political dynamics and nationalism in Cambodia potentially pose a serious threat to the future of the bilateral relationship.
Government-to-government, party-to-party, business-to-business and military-to-military relations are well founded and progressing. But people-to-people ties need to be improved.
Educational and cultural exchanges between the two societies are therefore necessary to build a long-term and stable bilateral relationship.
Last month, the French and German embassies organized a series of events and roundtable discussions to share the experiences and lessons learned from France and Germany in bilateral reconciliation between the two former foes.
The French-German reconciliation shows that political will and leadership, open multi-stakeholders dialogue and inclusive participation are the critical mechanisms in promoting mutual understanding, trust and cooperation.
Economic interdependence particularly at the border areas, regional and sub-regional economic integration, cross-cultural conservations, civil society exchanges and dialogues, education and people mobility are the foundations of the French-German friendship.
Understanding history helps countries to move forward in terms of reconciliation. History gives light to the future; but don’t let history dictate the future.
Frank, open and inclusive conversations between Cambodians and Vietnamese need to be encouraged to avoid unnecessary misperception and mutual distrust.
Vietnam should explore opportunities to work with different political groups in Cambodia to promote mutual understanding. Meanwhile, the political parties in Cambodia should refrain from using anti-Vietnamism to gain their popularity and votes. Only through dialogue trust can be built.
The remaining disputes between the two countries need to be managed and resolved based on mutual interests, bilateral negotiation, regional mechanism and the principles of international law.
To move forward, Cambodia and Vietnam need to overcome the differences through inclusive dialogue across sectors and actors, particularly invest more in promoting people-to-people ties.
Winning the hearts of politicians serves short-term interests. Winning the hearts of the people serves long-term interests.