Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Monday a plan to transform a former battle site in Tbong Khmum province into a development hub, stressing his commitment to boosting bilateral cooperation with neighboring Vietnam.
Speaking at the 45th anniversary of June 20, 1977 — the day he fled Cambodia to seek assistance from Vietnam to overthrow the Khmer Rouge — Hun Sen announced his intention to open a new Cambodia-Vietnam border checkpoint in the province’s Koh Thmar area to facilitate travel and trade between the two countries.
“We can open an international border checkpoint in an appropriate time,” he said, adding that the government had also allocated more than 1,000 hectares for creating a Special Economic Zone. “I believe that the area would become an economic exchange zone, this will attract the investors,” he said.
The project, he said, would also include improved infrastructure including roads, electricity, and water, and construction would start next year.
Hun Sen said that since the implementation of his so-called win-win policy, he has aimed to transform all former battlefields into development zones and make border areas focus on development and cooperation.
“Now we have been archiving [the goals] and along the border with Vietnam now has been changed from exchanging bullets zones to the manufacturing and goods exchange zone.”
He noted that relations between the two countries have evolved over the past 45 years, with deepening ties benefiting both countries. “We have joined together to address the border-related issues,” he said.
According to Hun Sen, the bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam during the first five months this year reached more than $5 billion.
He said given the pandemic, last year the two countries aimed for only $5 billion in trade, but reached $9 billion. This year, he said, the volume of trade was likely to surpass $10 billion.
Sar Sina, director of the Tbong Khmum Provincial Information Department, said that no infrastructure has been developed yet and there is only a six-meters-wide road connecting to the border.
He said that at the prime minister’s recommendation, the road will be widened to 12 meters starting next year.
“After the zone develops into an economic corridor, people will move to live there and it will help boost the province’s economic activities,” he said.
Hong Vannak, director of Cambodia Royal Academy’s International Relations Institute of Cambodia in charge of international economy, said that while the bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam continues to increase, the trade imbalance has also widened due to Cambodia’s trade deficit.
“In recent years we have seen a larger trade volume, but Cambodia’s exports to Vietnam are still small compared to Vietnam’s [to Cambodia],” he said.
He said that while the free market could not ban the import of goods from abroad, Cambodia needs to increase its domestic production of essential consumer goods to reduce imports.
Cambodia and Vietnam have a long history of border disputes, both historically and since the end of French colonial rule.
Border activists and opposition politicians have criticized the government, saying Hun Sen ceded territory in exchange for helping him hold power — a charge he has roundly denied. In recent years, some who have attempted to draw up alternative maps or bring attention to what they say are inaccurately demarcated border posts, have been arrested.
According to Hun Sen, the two countries already agreed and completed 84 percent of demarcation.
Political analyst Em Sovanara said the ties between Cambodia and Vietnam remain strong but may appear to have weakened in recent years with China’s ascendancy.
“Vietnam seems to have advantages over Cambodia in ties, which makes Cambodia turn to China in a strong relationship, ‘a steel relationship’,” he said. “Therefore, the strong relationships between the two countries [Vietnam and Cambodia] requires confirmation from both leaders.” (Additional reporting by Seoung Nimol)