In the 1990s, Japan lent its hands to Cambodia by helping with the nation’s peacekeeping process. The assistance came after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for bringing the Kingdom to complete devastation. Since then, Cambodia has fostered a special relationship with Japan.
Presently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on a mission to make Japan a “Proactive Contributor to Peace” – a role which Japan has so far fulfilled given their substantial contributions to the rise and development of the Kingdom. With the current improvements extending to Cambodia’s economic, trade, political and social sectors, the nation’s investment potential has piqued the interest of some Japanese investors.
In an interview with Khmer Times, Hayashi Hirotake, principal deputy director of the First Southeast Asia Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explains how Cambodia- Japan relations have fared so far and how it can be further expanded.
Q: How does Japan see Cambodia for business opportunities?
A: I believe Japanese firms want to add value to the Cambodian economy by manufacturing products in Cambodia that can be exported. They also seek to bring high-quality goods to the Cambodian market at a reasonable price. The added value on the Kingdom’s consumption is also Japan’s way of investing in Cambodia.
Q: What is the role of JICA and JETRO in the Japanese government’s decision to provide loans, grants or investment opportunities to Cambodia?
A: Companies, including Japanese firms, have invested a lot over the past 10 or 20 years. We are very proud of JICA’s work, especially the people of JICA who fly overseas to work hand-in-hand with regional and national offices. I think they are crucial in maintaining Japanese diplomatic ties. We are very proud of the work they do.
Meanwhile, JETRO has the role of helping Japanese firms interested in investing overseas by researching the commercial situation in each country. I hope they play a role in drawing the attention of Japanese companies towards Cambodia.
Q: I understand that Japan plans to build a new terminal at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in 2021. Do you have any updates regarding the project?
A: For us, Sihanoukville is a very important area. Because of its location within the region, it could help Cambodia increase its commercial activity, especially in import and export. That is why we have tried to help Cambodia develop Sihanoukville. We understand that there is a huge Chinese presence there. [However] for us, it seems their presence is more or less motivated by tourism and others.
For us, we see Sihanoukville from a different perspective. We have different goals when it comes to how we wish to strengthen tourism in Sihanoukville. What’s important for us is the economic development of Cambodia.
Q: Are Japanese companies interested in employing Cambodian workers to work in Japan?
A: We believe Cambodians are hard-working people and keen to learn new skills. That is why we have initiatives that grant them the opportunity to work in Japan. These jobs include nursing, caregiving and industrial work. These are opportunities that we want Cambodians to grab.
Unfortunately, there are exams that they have to take. Their skills and knowledge will be tested to prove they can quickly be integrated into Japanese companies. Actually, we already have training centres set up in developing countries where participants are trained to achieve the standard of skill and language proficiency required of them.
Q: Can you highlight which sectors in Cambodia has Japan been helping out?
A: Since 1992, Japan has been one of the largest donors of Cambodia. We have provided assistance in the construction of medical facilities and bridges, as well as technical assistance through training and capacity building. The assistance projects we provide are funded through concessional loans.
As the country develops, the amount of aid we provide decreases little by little because the need and demand on your side start changing as well, as evidenced by the growing focus in the construction of large infrastructures, which, in turn, bring in various business opportunities.
Q: Do you think the fact that China has given substantial grant aids to Cambodia affects Japan’s influence in the country?
A: Of course, we can’t provide a loan for everything. We only provide for projects that we believe are appropriate for Cambodia and Japan. I don’t see why we need to compare the number of loans provided by countries. I think what’s more important is that we’re making a proper impact. We don’t want to be spending millions of dollars on projects that neither benefits Japan nor Cambodia.
Q: Loans from Western countries are generally linked to democratic and human rights pursuits. Are Japan’s aids linked to any conditions?
A: We don’t do conditional loans. Our aids do not dwell on issues outside economic interests. This doesn’t mean we don’t value human rights. Human rights are important. Some western countries believe human rights should be closely linked with economic policy whereas others believe human rights come as a result of economic development. In any case, the kind of assistance that should be in place depends on each country. We believe that we should respect the culture and history of each country.
Q: What is your view on China’s large-scale projects in Cambodia?
A: That’s up to the Cambodian government and its people. That’s your concern. I do hope European countries will invest in Cambodia as well. Hopefully, they will be able to extend their help.
Q: Lastly, what can you say about the cultural cooperation between Cambodia and Japan?
A: The historical Angkor Wat temple is a very popular place for the Japanese. We also believe that the preservation of heritage and cultural sites is very important. We have been providing assistance that aims to advance this advocacy. A lot of Japanese people visit the site. Because of that, we set up a diplomatic office to ensure tourists receive proper assistance and guidance there.