From building infrastructure such as bridges and irrigation systems, to providing assistance on environmental issues and taking a lead in demining and training, Japan has played a key role in the Kingdom’s recent development.
Such cooperation means that “The Land of the Rising Sun” is considered one of the Kingdom’s most dependable partners.
The history of Cambodia-Japan relations dates back centuries, beginning in 1569 when a Cambodian merchant ship docked at Kyushu island seeking to engage with Japan, according to Pou Sothirak, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
Looking to explore opportunities in the Kingdom, 44 Japanese ships sailed to Cambodia between 1604 and 1635.
Evidence of Japanese contact with Cambodia can even be found on walls and pillars in Angkor Wat, with 14 ink inscriptions by Japanese worshippers dating back to 1612, the former Cambodian ambassador to Japan stated.
In modern times, Japan was one of the first countries to recognise Cambodia after independence from France in 1953, establishing diplomatic relations that year.
Since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991, Japan has played a lead role in the rebuilding of Cambodia after decades of civil war.
The Japanese Mine Action Servive (JMAS) had cleared approximately 4,100 hectares of minefields, more than 20,000 anti-personnel mines, 650 anti-tank mines and 39,0000 items of unexploded ordnance (UXO) as of last September.
JMAS had also responded to more than 3,7000 requests from people to dispose of mines and UXO found around the areas they live.
This drive to regenerate the Kingdom after years of brutal conflict has also extended to infrastructure.
The Chroy Changvar I Bridge in Phnom Penh – severely damaged in the civil war period, with large portions destroyed in 1972 and 1973 after Khmer Rouge forces placed mines – was rebuilt with Japanese aid.
Originally built in 1963 with a Japanese government grant, the 971m bridge across the Tonle Sap remained uncrossable for more than three decades until finally reopening in February 1994. It was renamed the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge by King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
More recently, the Japanese funded the Neak Loeung Bridge from Kandal to Prey Veng province, which was inaugurated in April 2015. The 2.2km cable-stayed bridge across the Mekong River is the Kingdom’s longest.
Japan also played a key role in the development of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) assisting in developing the Kingdom’s sole international deep-sea dock to boost Cambodia’s economic and industrial activities.
Its chairman and CEO HE Lou Kim Chhun received a 2020 Spring Conferment of Decorations from the Japanese government for his contributions in promoting the relationship between Japan and Cambodia in the field of port development.
Japan is also a leading trade partner. Bilateral trade between Cambodia and Japan reached $1.9 billion, in the first 10 months of last year – an increase of 0.44 per cent on the $1.89 billion in the same period in 2019, according the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro).
Cambodian exports to Japan were worth $1.45 billion, an increase of 7.8 per cent.
According to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, from 1995 to the first quarter of 2019, the Cambodian government approved 137 projects worth $2.5 billion from Japan.
The majority were in the energy, agro-industry, food processing, automotive spare parts, hospitality, health and retail sectors, and the assembling of electronic components.
Japanese assistance also extends to training, with the Cambodian-Japan Cooperation Center (CJCC) developing highly skilled and competent human resources for the benefit of the Kingdom.
The CJCC says it aims to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between Cambodia and Japan through three main activities: business training, Japanese language for career development and the Culture and Education Exchange Program.
Japan has proven itself to be a reliable partner in Cambodia’s development for the past three decades – and as Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia HE Mikami Masahiro has said in his message for this year’s National Day of Japan, the friendship will only continue to flourish.