On 26 January each year, Australians celebrate our national day, Australia Day. It is an opportunity for our diverse country to reflect on our past while looking to the future.
Here in Cambodia, Australia Day is also an opportunity to reflect on Australia’s relationship with Cambodia.
It was in January 1952, 65 years ago this month, that Australia first commenced diplomatic relations with Cambodia. We were one of the first countries to do so, almost two years before Cambodia gained independence from France.
2017 is already shaping up to be a busy one for the Embassy but I would like to take a moment to reflect on our bilateral achievements over 2016.
In October, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords with our Cambodian and international colleagues. This was an important reminder of the strong foundations of Australia’s long-standing relationship with Cambodia, as Australia played an important role in the Peace Accord negotiations, and went on to cement this commitment to Cambodia’s future development through our contribution to all components of the UNTAC mission that followed.
Australia’s development cooperation program continues to make a real difference to the lives of Cambodians. During 2016, we worked with the Cambodian Government and donor partners to launch the new Health Equity and Quality Improvement Project (H-EQIP), which will improve access to quality health services across the country.
We also supported Cambodia’s efforts to end violence against women, and to ensure inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities. This is in addition to our ongoing support for reproductive and maternal health in Cambodia’s northeast provinces and in garment factories.
We continued our investment in infrastructure to unlock economic opportunities in rural areas, and to improve agricultural productivity through the second phase of the Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain program. Our ongoing support to Cambodia’s demining efforts opened up more land for agriculture and other economic activity.
We saw bipartisan two-way parliamentary exchanges; welcomed a visit to Sihanoukville by the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Warramunga; and boosted our cooperation to tackle illicit drugs, transnational crime and regional challenges such as people smuggling. Together, Australia and Cambodia made strong contributions to issues of regional strategic importance.
I congratulate Cambodia on its continued economic growth and graduating from the World Bank’s ‘low-income’ to ‘lower-middle income’ status. Australian companies have contributed to Cambodia’s development. On the back of increasing garment imports, tourism, live-cattle trade, and Cambodian students studying in Australia, our two-way trade grew to nearly AU$500 million in 2015-16.
I was pleased to see many more Australian students visiting Cambodia through the New Colombo Plan (NCP) which supports Australian undergraduates to study or undertake internships in the Indo-Pacific region. An increasing number of Cambodian students also studied in Australia. Regular and high-level exchanges occurred in the arts and cultural sector. Academic and cultural exchanges help us to learn about each other, and create the people-to-people links which are the bedrock of our strong bilateral partnership.
This year will be even busier! We will welcome around 440 NCP scholars to Cambodia, making it the 5th most popular destination in the region for our NCP program, and we will support up to 45 Cambodians to study in Australia under the Australia Awards Scholarships, taking our total scholarship numbers since 1994 to over 700.
We will be looking for opportunities to strengthen trade and investment, particularly in education services and the provision of high-end food and beverages. We will also continue to promote arts, cultural and historical engagement between Australia and Cambodia through a series of public diplomacy events, and to build our people-to-people links.
The continued strengthening of our bilateral relationship is not possible without the positive support and engagement from our Cambodian and international colleagues and friends. We thank you, and encourage you to join with us in celebrating Australia Day.