New Oz envoy set to enhance relations

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Justin Whyatt at an event in Malaysia. JUSTIN WHYATT VIA TWITTER

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has appointed veteran diplomat Justin Whyatt as the new envoy to Cambodia to replace outgoing ambassador Pablo Kang.

In a November 20 press release, Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong thanked Kang for his contributions to advancing Australia’s interests in Cambodia since 2019.

She said the relationship between Australia and Cambodia is built upon strong people-to-people links, education and cooperation on strategically important issues, including transnational crime and Covid-19 recovery efforts.

“Cambodia is an important regional partner to Australia and a valued member of ASEAN. This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations,” she said.

According to the press release, Whyatt is a senior career officer with the foreign affairs department and most recently served as Assistant Secretary at the department’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and Regional Maritime Branch. Whyatt also previously served in Washington DC and Phnom Penh.

At a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on November 12 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that Australia continue to provide demining assistance to help Cambodia realise its mine-free goal by 2025.

Hun Sen said he appreciated Australia for its contribution to peacebuilding and continued support for Cambodia’s socio-economic development through the provision of formal development assistance in various sectors, including education, agriculture, infrastructure, landmine clearance and public health.

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Motorists ride past the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies, said Australia is an important development partner for Cambodia.

He noted that, during Kang’s tenure, Cambodia-Australia relations had grown significantly – especially financial aid and Covid-19 vaccine assistance to Cambodia as well as financial assistance for human resources development, defence cooperation, transnational crime fighting, environmental protection, military technical assistance and military capacity building.

“Justin Whyatt is a veteran diplomat previously in charge of Indo-Pacific affairs, and he has a clear understanding of the region and a lot of experience in promoting investment, technical assistance and mutual trust between the two governments, especially on the issue of the Ream Naval Base,” he said.

Yang Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said Australia has always maintained its foreign policy stances consistently over time.

Eng said that Kang had done a very good job during his tenure and he expects that the same policies will continue when Whyatt takes over his mission.

“What we want to see as an improvement from the new ambassador would be further cooperation with the [Cambodian] government in various sectors with more economic stimulus and development assistance.

“We also want to see contributions such as any policy or programme."