UK’s Raab in Kingdom to reinforce trade, ties

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Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab (left) met his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn on Wednesday. FOREIGN MINISTRY

Britain's foreign minister Dominic Raab met his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn on June 23 to forge deeper bilateral ties and discuss the UK’s bid for ASEAN Dialogue Partnership status as Cambodia is slated to chair the bloc next year.

“[I’m] here to boost trade, support Cambodia’s energy transition, and expand UK-ASEAN cooperation - and as a force for good in the Indo-Pacific,” Raab tweeted before the meeting.

Sokhonn confirmed that he met Raab in the morning to discuss the two countries’ common desires to further strengthen and expand bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields of mutual benefit.

“We discussed Cambodia’s chairing of ASEAN in 2022 as well as ways to further promote ASEAN-UK relations. We also agreed to continue working closely together in both a regional and international framework,” Sokhonn said after the meeting.

The UK embassy in Phnom Penh also said both sides were looking to deepen the UK-Cambodia strategic partnership on health security, position the UK as an “ASEAN Dialogue Partner in-waiting” and signal the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt.

In a tweet after the meeting, Raab said: “Delighted to meet Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to discuss our shared priorities such as trade, human rights and Myanmar.”

Raab also met Minister of Environment Say Samal to discuss environmental issues and climate change, during which he congratulated Cambodia on the country’s development, according to ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

The two ministers, Pheaktra said, also touched on topics such as transnational wildlife trafficking, consumption of renewable energy, Cambodia’s contribution to the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference – also known as COP26 – and biodiversity preservation.

He said Raab had asked Samal what the UK could do to help in the environment and nature sectors. Samal told Raab that the UK could help Cambodia with human resource development relating to environmental and natural protection, forging trade partnerships and with exporting products from Cambodia.

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UK foreign minister Dominic Raab (left) and environment minister Say Samal. Hean Rangsey

“In the environmental sector, the UK can help Cambodia by buying carbon credits through which the budget will be spent on forest and wildlife protection and community economic development through alternative occupations. This will create income for our people,” Pheaktra said.

In response, Raab said he would send a delegation of specialists to Cambodia to study and better understand the country’s needs in the environment and nature sectors, an idea that Samal warmly welcomed, according to Pheaktra.

The UK foreign minister also visited the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) to learn how the Khmer Rouge documents have been preserved and how they contributed to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, known officially as the Extraordinary Chambers in Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

DC-Cam director Youk Chhang told The Post that he gave Raab a background briefing on Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and those brought before the tribunal, as well as on the suffering of their victims. The centre also focuses now on the health conditions of survivors of the Khmer Rouge which consists of five million people.

Youk said DC-Cam had provided more than half a million documents, including the photocopies of the original Khmer Rouge documents, to the tribunal and was now working with the government to construct research centres and libraries in the provinces as requested by the ECCC.

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DC-Cam director Youk Chhang shows documents to Dominic Raab on June 23. DC-Cam

In anticipation of Cambodia taking the role of ASEAN Chair next year, the nation has already been visited by two high-profile foreign diplomats – Raab and US deputy secretary of state Wendy R Sherman, who visited on June 1.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said that as the chair Cambodia can set the agenda items for ASEAN summits and other bilateral and multilateral meetings, such as those related to the UK’s application for ASEAN Dialogue Partnership status.

Having dialogue partnership with ASEAN, he said, was to compete with other countries on trade and to curb China’s growing influence.

Phea saw Raab’s visit as peaceful and constructive compared to that of Sherman, who raised hot-button issues and controversial topics, including holding a meeting with former opposition leader Kem Sokha.

“His visit was to show friendship and for constructive purposes. He did not raise heated topics which would cause trouble for bilateral relations between the two countries.

“It looks like he came to listen to Cambodia and see where the UK could help Cambodia. There are a lot of positive takeaways from his visit,” Phea said.