Prime Minister Hun Manet met with President Emmanuel Macron Thursday at the Élysée Palace on the first day of his official visit to France, where he emphasized possibilities for economic collaboration between the two countries. The visit comes at the end of a week-long trip to Europe, his first as Prime Minister, which also included meetings with French business leaders and a stop in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum.
“Cambodia will always remember France’s role in contributing to national economic recovery and development through the French Agency for Development,” Hun Manet said at the press event. “I hope that my visit to France, especially with the president, will enable us to discuss the work that needs to further strengthen Cambodia-France relations.”
Hun Manet added that the private sector is an important and necessary part of building the relationship between the two countries.
Macron also spoke about his desire to keep the relationship between the two countries close.
“The Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to create new projects with our companies and we will have the opportunity to exchange views with many businesses especially in the fields of energy, transportation and infrastructure,” he said.
The president also confirmed that the French Development Agency has pledged 200 million euros to Cambodia in order to assist in the fields of vocational training, energy and clean water.
Before the official visit to the country, Hun Manet met with French business representatives at a business forum Monday, where six Memorandums of Understanding were signed between Cambodian companies and institutions based in French-speaking countries.
The agreements were signed between the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce and Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie, the Royal Group and Blue Circle, Techo International Airport and Lagardere Travel Retail, Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC) and Aloest Productions, and OCIC and Platform Impact, and LYP Group and Semmaris.
At the 54th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the prime minister met with international business and government leaders, including USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization Daren Tang.
Among the business leaders Hun Manet met with was Trip.com CEO Jane Sun. According to a post on Hun Manet’s official Facebook page, Sun said the company intended to “continue cooperating with partner companies in Cambodia to bring more tourists to visit Cambodia.” The travel website signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia Angkor Air in May 2023.
“If she made that commitment to our leadership, then she will be able to drive the growth of tourism and the national economy. We have high expectations,” said Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents.
Hong Vannak, an economic researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Hun Manet’s visit to Europe should have a positive business impact in Cambodia, possibly attracting new investors into the country as well as tourism.
“French investors and large corporations in Europe could be interested in considering some investment projects in Cambodia,” he said. “If this turns out to be true, it is another step that adds to what the EU has given us with the EBA,” referring to the EU’s Everything but Arms scheme that grants developing countries, including Cambodia, duty free access to EU markets.
Political analyst Em Sovannara told CamboJA News that the visit has been positive for the Cambodian government and could point to Cambodia having better relationships with European countries in the future.
“Although France criticized Cambodia’s elections earlier, this [trip] shows the international stage that Europe values us. The first success was an official invitation from France, a diplomatic success,” he said.
Astrid Norén Nilsson, a senior lecturer at Lund University in Sweden who studies Cambodian politics, sees the trip as an opportunity for the Cambodian government to gain “a rehabilitated image in the West.”
“The recognition by the French government that the visit amounts to is nothing less than a triumph for the government,” she said. “While the ironclad friendship with China is paramount to Hun Manet and his administration, Cambodia is eager to diversify its foreign relations.”
France also stands to gain from the Cambodian leader’s visit. Following the July elections, a statement from the French government said that France “regrets that the elections took place in the absence of the main opposition party.” But just a month later, Macron sent a letter to Hun Manet wishing him success in his new position and expressing his desire for further cooperation between the two countries.
“It appears that Macron takes a pragmatic approach: he assesses that since there won’t be the sort of political change in Cambodia that France has called for, France should build cordial relations with the new generation leadership that took office in August last year,” Norén Nilsson said. “Cambodia would be a prized cooperation partner for France, not least because it is China’s closest friend in the region.”
Additional reporting by Leila Goldstein.