Thailand envoy at forefront of latest strategic diplomacy style

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Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn. Photo supplied

Cambodia on January 18 announced the launch of the Economic Diplomacy Strategy (EDS) for 2021-2023 as a framework for future diplomatic and cultural initiatives. The EDS was designed as a priority for Cambodian foreign policy – to assume a critical role in diversifying sources of economic growth and trade partners.

As such, through EDS-guided economic diplomacy, Cambodia is expected to be better able to sustain its economic dynamism and resilience as well as elevate its presence and prestige on the international stage.

 

In the same vein, this new economic diplomatic instrument will strengthen and enhance the Kingdom’s foreign policy, to protect its core national interests more adeptly by ensuring its own economic prosperity.

In a virtual interview with The Post’s May Kunmakara, Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn discussed his role in making the strategy work and how it can be harnessed to attract more investment into the country.

Could you share some of your thoughts on the initiative and why it is important?

This initiative on economic diplomacy is very important, practical and pragmatic for Cambodian diplomats and relevant stakeholders. It was launched in 2018 by His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn with the full support from Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen.

To implement it effectively and efficiently, “Economic Diplomacy Strategy 2021-2023” was put in place early this year as a pilot project. Subsequently, two virtual meetings were recently organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation’s Economic Diplomacy Coordinating Group to raise awareness and provide great opportunities for Cambodian missions abroad as well as public and private sectors to get involved.

There are plenty of works needed to be done, especially capacity building for our diplomats and government officials, enhancing partnerships between the public and private sectors, and improving focal points and information sharing.

 

More importantly, the objective of the nascent initiative is to contribute to achieving Cambodia’s vision of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.

Nevertheless, the road to achieving these ambitious expansion goals remains elusive, requiring further dissemination of information among Cambodian diplomats and relevant stakeholders.

What are you planning to do to promote its execution?

The Royal Embassy of Cambodia to Thailand has done its share in putting the initiative into practice since 2019. We’ll continue to engage with business communities in Thailand, sharing and explaining our views on the promotion of international trade, investment and tourism, as well as culture and sports.

For an effective realisation of the strategy, my embassy team, especially the commercial attache and first secretary, has assisted me in preparing agendas for promotional programmes and other related activities.

Furthermore, we officially launched the Cambodia Business Council (CBC) in Bangkok last month to operate as a new arm to support the implementation of the strategy. We together plan to prop up work on making Cambodian geographical indication (GI) and consumer products available on the Thai markets, in order to enhance the flow of products between Cambodia and Thailand.

And how does Covid-19 play into carrying out the EDS?

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 is still transmissible and remains around us, but there’s nothing to fear since we’re adapting to the new normal and following strict health measures. To cope with the challenges, we’ve reduced face-to-face interactions and shifted to online meetings.

In the near future, we will collaborate with the CBC to organise virtual business matching events and webinar series about the investment environment and opportunities in Cambodia to allure more Thai and foreign investors to enter the Cambodian market post-Covid-19.

Achieving economic pillars has become of paramount importance for Cambodia, as the global economy and multilateral trading system comes under mounting pressure due to the rise of unilateralism, protectionism, isolationism and technological war, together with the Covid-19 pandemic.

How will the initiative influence Cambodia-Thailand trade and investment?

Based on our experience in the last two years here, many new Thai investors are eyeing the Cambodian market because our investment incentives provide competitive advantages to all segments of the private sector.

These include no Cambodian equity-participation requirement, no price controls on products or services, and a dollarised economy that lessens the need to convert foreign currency.

Factors such as competitive labour – a young and dynamic population that asks for reasonable wages, a strategic location at the centre of ASEAN, market access, and preferential trading status in ASEAN Plus Three, the US and EU, among others, are thoroughly conducive to attracting more investors and businesspeople to either start or expand business operations in Cambodia.

Thus, joint collaboration between the foreign ministry, Cambodian missions abroad, and line ministries-institutions to implement the EDS is the right direction to speed up efforts in diversifying Cambodia’s trade and inbound investment flows.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.