Prime Minister Hun Manet thanked Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for not allowing Thailand to be used as a base for people to interfere with his country’s affairs during his visit to the country on February 7.
Srettha had promised Hun Manet that his country would not tolerate anyone carrying out harmful acts against their neighbors.
“I have reassured PM Hun Manet regarding Thailand’s policy of not allowing anyone to use Thailand as a platform to interfere in the internal affairs of [their country] to conduct harmful activities against the neighboring country,” Srettha said. “We will strictly enforce our law and policies in this respect.”
“I thank you for reaffirming your support and not allowing Thai territory to be used for any activities for interference in Cambodian internal politics,” Hun Manet said in return during a joint press conference. “The Cambodian government is also committed to not allowing Cambodia to be [used] as a platform for activities that interfere with Thai politics or cause problems in Thailand,” he added.
During Hun Manet’s visit, Thai authorities arrested three Cambodian political activists, Chhorn Sokhoeurn, Chhorn Channy and Pheap Chan Sophen, with one of them being only 16-years-old, Human Rights Watch reported.
This is in addition to the arrests of former opposition party members, Kung Raiya and two others, by the Thai authorities last week. The three had quit ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and fled to Thailand.
Altogether, Thai officials have detained six persons for allegedly planning a demonstration against Hun Manet’s arrival.
Sieng Sothea, a former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker, who lives in Thailand as a refugee, said the political activists had yet to be released. In the meantime, a previously planned protest in conjunction with Hun Manet’s visit was canceled because they wanted to keep quiet and stay safe.
“If we don’t protest, they [Thai authorities] might discuss commuting their sentence [of the detained activists]. If we continue to protest, the authorities may send them to Cambodia,” Sothea said.
On December 29, Thai officials detained 10 Cambodian refugees who were attending a Paris Peace Agreement course in Bangkok. Three were later freed, but seven others remained in immigration detention.
Am Sam Ath, Operations Director of LICADHO, told CamboJA that even though Thailand signed an MoU with UNHCR, it is not a safe place for activists who seek asylum, which is why they are always arrested by Thai authorities.
“Some refugees are recognized by UNHCR but they are still arrested. It violates the rights of the refugees,” he said.
Regarding Hun Manet’s visit to Thailand, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, said Thailand’s leaders should not arrest Cambodian political activists who are living in exile in Thailand.
Thai leaders should recognize that being a good neighbor is about the people as well, and not just about promoting trade and investment and reaching natural gas deals.
“The refugees should be released immediately and unconditionally, and allowed to seek security and protection in a third country if that is what they want,” said Robertson.
Chum Sounry, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be reached for comment.
According to Hun Manet’s Facebook page, the two countries discussed regional and international affairs, showed mutual support in international forums and promoted cooperation in the fight against transnational crime, online scams, and border development to ensure that both countries enjoy peace and prosperity.
“We also discussed strengthening cooperation to combat national crime including online scams, cross border crimes, and underlining the need for international cooperation and exchanging information with relevant agencies,” said Hun Manet.
Within the framework of strengthening political and diplomatic ties, both parties agreed to upgrade the level of bilateral relations from enhancing partnership for peace and prosperity to strategic partnership for the mutual benefit of the nation and people.
“This will open up many opportunities for us to work even more closely,” Thai PM Srettha said. Thailand will also open a new Thai consulate in Siem Reap and Cambodia will open one in Songkhla.
Both premiers also discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation in areas of common interest while witnessing five Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation.
One of them was on the cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction and emergency response between the National Committee for Disaster Management of Cambodia and the Ministry of Interior of Thailand. They also agreed to cooperate in the field of science and technology education between Cambodia’s Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation and Thailand’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.
An MoU on transit goods was signed between the General Department of Customs and Excise and the Thai Customs Department, while another was between the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, and the Thai Chamber of Committee, respectively.
Thailand is Cambodia’s second-largest trade partner in ASEAN with a total trade value of $3.71 billion in 2023, down 17 percent year-on-year from $4.47 billion in 2022, data by General Department of Customs and Excise showed.
Hong Vannak, an economics researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s (RAC) International Relations Institute, said Hun Manet’s visit to Thailand would improve ties between the countries. Although Thailand and Vietnam have robust economies, Cambodia cannot rely on their market demand.
“We have never exported much to Thailand or Vietnam, so if we anticipate too much from the Thai market, it is not good,” he said. “We should focus on the quality of our product and look to another market for trade.”
Regarding overlapping claims areas (OCA), Hun Manet said shifting global environments have made energy security a critical problem for both countries. As a result, both countries have decided to continue discussions.
“We hope that the talks will yield results very soon in the near future so that both countries can mutually benefit from this,” he said.
According to the Bangkok Post, Thailand urged Cambodia to join the CLEAR Sky Strategy initiative, which aims to increase cooperation among neighboring nations in the battle against transboundary haze.