New Delhi’s determination to adhere to a rules-based order and autonomy places Cambodia at a better junction to navigate its path vis-a-vis China
From 11-13 November 2022, the Vice-President of India, Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar, accompanied by External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, led the Indian delegation to Cambodia on a three-day visit to attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit and the 17th East Asia Summit. On the sidelines of the summit, India prepared to expand its relations with Cambodia as they celebrate the 70th anniversary of their bilateral relations this year. With this focus, the Indian Vice President met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and discussed different issues pertaining to the advancement of bilateral relations. The mine clearance cooperation with the Indian government was particularly emphasised in this visit. India, in June 2022, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on funding a mine-free village project in Koh Kong province that intends to help 8,000 people inhabiting this region. Victim assistance is also being extended by providing prosthetic limbs to those affected by mine accidents. In this regard, two health centres that fall under the “Jaipur Foot” prosthetics programme are being considered to be established in the near future. Incidentally, four MoUs were inked during this visit. The first is in the field of health and medicine. The second MoU was signed for the reintroduction of tigers in Cambodia, which have become extinct due to poaching and habitat loss. In this regard, there will be capacity building for a tiger ecosystem followed by the handover of tigers. The third MoU was signed between the Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur, and the Institute of Technology, Cambodia to increase collaboration in the field of education and digital conservation of cultural heritage. The last MoU was signed on the Financing Agreement on Conservation and Preservation of Ramayana-based murals in Wat Raja Bo Pagoda in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The mine clearance cooperation with the Indian government was particularly emphasised in this visit. India, in June 2022, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on funding a mine-free village project in Koh Kong province that intends to help 8,000 people inhabiting this region.
India has since played an important part in the restoration of temples like the famous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, which has been appreciated by the Cambodian people and government.
Moreover, the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia will be conducting the Business Excellence Program Awards 2022 in the second week of December 2022 in Phnom Penh, with an aim to promote business- and investment-related activities for boosting trade and commerce between the two nations. More than 200 companies, both private and public, are expected to participate from both nations. However, trade between India and Cambodia remains inadequate. As per the 2021 report, the total trade volume between Cambodia and India amounted to US $311 million. India is among the top 10 foreign investors in Cambodia and the fourth largest trading partner in ASEAN with bilateral trade in 2019-20 worth US $86.9 billion. Cambodia is also in plans to establish a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India It already has FTA with China, South Korea and Japan. Analysts believe that this will benefit Cambodia since India has a thriving economy and technology sector. Cambodia also appreciates India’s role in supplying COVID-19 vaccines, most recently under the QUAD vaccine initiative. With respect to physical connectivity, the completion of the India- Thailand- Myanmar trilateral highway that is to be connected to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will give India and Cambodia an opportunity to enhance multimodal connectivity. Also advancing inter-port connectivity between Kolkata and Paradip port, Orissa may serve the purpose of reaching the Sittwe port in Myanmar, and thereafter to Cambodia and other southeast Asian nations.
Considerable development support through programmes such as the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) projects is also being provided to Phnom Penh.
To boost tourism, direct air flight services are also being planned. The number of Indian tourist arrivals in Cambodia in 2022 is now 0.9 percent compared to 1.1 percent in 2018. Cultural tourism can be immensely fruitful for generating people-to-people links since both nations share common cultural and historical roots.
India is among the top 10 foreign investors in Cambodia and the fourth largest trading partner in ASEAN with bilateral trade in 2019-20 worth US $86.9 billion.
In this situation, advancing bilateral ties with India seems appropriate in terms of its geopolitical and strategic needs. New Delhi’s determination to adhere to a rules-based order and autonomy places Cambodia at a better junction to navigate its path vis-a-vis China. This also aids India’s ASEAN and Act East vision as it seeks to position itself as a vital strategic partner within the region. Thus, it may be a win-win situation for both nations as they aim to play a big role in writing the current Indo-Pacific narrative. Thus, by finding convergence and enhancing cultural, physical, and economic ties, both nations can take their relations to new heights.
Enhancing relations with India gives Cambodia a better chance to diversify its partners within the region and lessen its reliance on China.
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Sreeparna Banerjee is a Junior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation Kolkata with the Strategic Studies Programme.Read More +