As 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Kingdom’s official friendship with Japan – with formal diplomatic ties established back in 1953 – the JICA Cambodia Office is also celebrating 30 years since its establishment.

JICA – the Japan International Cooperation Agency – has, as an implementing agency of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA), been working with the Cambodian government since 1993.

For the past three decades, these efforts have ranged from the peace-building and rehabilitation process of the early 1990s to socioeconomic development activities towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One of the most significant projects from the 1990s, the reconstruction of the Chroy Changvar Bridge – originally built in 1963 – over the Tonle Sap river was a truly symbolic restarting of Cambodian development.

Connecting Phnom Penh with the Kingdom’s northern and eastern provinces, and severely damaged during the civil war, the reopening in 1996 of the “Japanese Bridge” – Nihon Bashi in Japanese – represented regeneration after Cambodia had suffered prolonged periods of conflict.

Numerous infrastructure development projects have since followed, including on National Roads 1, 5, 6 and 7, the Sihanoukville Port, Kampong Cham’s Kizuna Bridge, the Neak Loeung Bridge linking Kandal and Prey Veng provinces, and many more.

These have enhanced mobility and connectivity in the country, building a strong foundation for industrial and economic development.

The destroyed central span of Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar Bridge is replaced in 1993. PHOTO SUPPLIED

JICA has also made huge investments in social development and the governance sector, as well as in water and sanitation.

These include the construction of schools and hospitals, and the development of civil law, teacher training projects, MCH (maternal child health) services, landmine clearance, water supply and sewerage management, among others.

Concessional loans totalled 275 billion yen (more than $2 billion) for 30 projects, with grant aid amounting to 177.8 billion yen for 158 projects.

The foundation of Japanese cooperation with Cambodia, however, dates back almost 70 years.

The Japanese government established the Asian Cooperation Foundation in 1954, the same year that Japan participated in the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific.

The Asia Cooperation Foundation, aimed at promoting economic and technical cooperation between Southeast Asian countries and Japan, eventually transferred its functions to the Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (OCTA) in 1962, and then to JICA in 1974.

The foundation began accepting trainees from Cambodia soon after its establishment in 1954, with 230 received in Japan in the first 12 years, with this reaching 14,988 by 2021.

The first four Japanese experts were dispatched in 1955, with 6,689 having done so by 2021. The first technical cooperation project began as early as 1959 in the areas of rice production, livestock management and medical services.

A Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) specialist works with rice farmers in Battambang in the 1960s. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Muneo Ogata – who came to Cambodia in 1960 as an expert pioneering in the first Japanese technical cooperation on livestock centres in Kampong Cham – described his experiences in a short essay.

“I had to stay in a house where there was no fridge or air conditioning, but with a mosquito net over the bed.

“The life there was like an exile, but all the Japanese experts talked about Cambodia’s development seriously and enthusiastically day and night, which was unforgettable,” he said.

Following training and technical cooperation in the 1960s, the first four JOCV volunteers specialising in rice production, judo and swimming were sent to Cambodia in 1966. So far, 797 volunteers have since been dispatched to the Kingdom.

Indeed, development cooperation is about people helping people and two countries building trust.

According to an opinion poll conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2019, Japan is ranked the number one most reliable country in Cambodia, higher than any other nation.

This trust held in Japan by the Cambodian people is an important asset, one that has been built up over many years by many people working across the two countries.

JICA is committed to enhancing this invaluable asset of trust through the successful implementation of its projects in Cambodia, which aim to support the Kingdom’s efforts in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), with support from JICA, provides training to Ukrainian demining officers in January this year. PHOTO SUPPLIED

After 70 years of cooperation in ODA, the partnership is now not only about “JICA assisting Cambodia”, but also working for solutions to development challenges in other countries and around the world.

On January 20 this year, Ukrainian deminers completed a training course conducted by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) with the support of JICA.

JICA and CMAC have had a longstanding partnership for nearly three decades, almost as long as the JICA Cambodia Office has been established.

Today, the world is being buffeted by a storm of challenges, with crises such as pandemics, conflicts, food insecurity and climate change, among others.

However, there remains the hope of shaping a better future with the Cambodian and Japanese people continuing to work together towards affirming universal values with mutual trust based on their 70-year history of friendship.

These include promoting the rule of law, good governance, investing in the development of human resources and developing infrastructure.

With JICA’s guiding vision of “Leading the World with Trust,” the JICA Cambodia Office renews its commitment to further working with the people of the Kingdom.

Kamei Haruko, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)Cambodia Office Chief Representative