Japanese finance minister plans visit to strengthen ties with Cambodia and enhance economic cooperation

The minister highlighted the significance of working closely with Cambodia to enhance bilateral friendship, especially as the two nations commemorate their 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year.

The Japanese Finance Minister, Shunichi Suzuki, is planning a strategic visit to Cambodia in early January. According to government spokesperson Pen Bona, this visit is seen as a pivotal moment in the relationship between Cambodia and Japan.

Suzuki’s visit is part of a broader tour that includes Sri Lanka, and he expressed his intention to strengthen ties with both countries during a press conference on December 26. The minister highlighted the significance of working closely with Cambodia to enhance bilateral friendship, especially as the two nations commemorate their 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year.

The statement from government spokesperson Pen Bona underscores Japan’s substantial contribution to Cambodia’s post-Khmer Rouge rebuilding efforts. Japan’s ongoing role in international cooperation is highlighted as particularly advantageous for Cambodia. Bona mentioned that the leaders of both nations have recently reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening their partnership and mutual support.

According to Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, the upcoming visit by Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki is expected to further solidify the comprehensive strategic partnership that the two countries had previously upgraded earlier in the year. This suggests a deepening of ties beyond economic cooperation, potentially involving diplomatic, security, and cultural dimensions.

The historical context of Japan’s assistance in Cambodia’s recovery from the Khmer Rouge era adds a layer of significance to the ongoing collaboration between the two nations. The diplomatic efforts and commitments from both sides signal a continued and strengthened relationship between Japan and Cambodia.

The Cambodian government is expressing the hope that Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki will consider offering further assistance to Cambodia in infrastructure development during his visit. Japan has been a significant supporter of Cambodia in this sector through both grants and concessional loans. The appeal for additional support suggests a desire to continue and expand Japan’s role in Cambodia’s economic development.

Furthermore, there is a call for Suzuki to explore investment opportunities for Japanese financiers in areas such as factories, logistics, and transport.

The statement from Kin Phea also hints at the geopolitical context in the Indo-Pacific, suggesting that the visit may be perceived as an effort to balance China’s influence in the region. Despite any geopolitical considerations, Phea emphasizes the importance for Cambodia to pursue “diplomatic diversification,” highlighting the need for a balanced approach in international relations with all countries.

In recent years, the Indo-Pacific region has become a focal point for geopolitical competition, with major powers, including China, the United States, and Japan, vying for influence. Against this backdrop, countries like Cambodia find themselves in a delicate position as they navigate relations with these influential actors.

China has been a significant player in Cambodia’s economic development, providing investment, aid, and infrastructure projects. However, Cambodia, like other nations in the region, recognizes the importance of not overly relying on any single partner. Diversifying diplomatic ties helps mitigate risks and allows countries to pursue their national interests while avoiding over-dependence on a particular ally.

Japan’s visit, in this context, can be seen as part of Cambodia’s broader strategy to engage with multiple partners. By strengthening ties with Japan, Cambodia not only benefits from economic cooperation but also establishes itself as a country open to diverse partnerships.

The trade volume statistics between Cambodia and Japan, with $1.6 billion in the first 11 months of 2023, illustrate the economic significance of their relationship. The balance of trade, with Cambodia exporting more than $1 billion and importing $573 million from Japan during that period, indicates a mutually beneficial economic partnership.