Moving forward with millennia of history

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen meets Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Photo supplied

India-Cambodia relations can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the Common Era or perhaps even before, when Hindu and Buddhist religious and cultural influences emanated out of India to Cambodia and the greater Southeast Asia region.

After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, India was the first country to recognise the new government and reopened its embassy in 1981.

In the immediate post-Khmer Rouge phase of 1979-91, India offered legitimacy to the government and helped build the capacity of its leadership.

India also responded to an appeal by the Cambodian government in 1986 to send a team of experts from Archaeological Survey of India to help restore the world-famous Angkor Wat temple, which was built between the 12th and 14th centuries.

There exists abundance of goodwill for India in Cambodia, which has been sustained by regular interactions between political leaders, the exchange of bilateral visits, aid and assistance, capacity building, cultural exchanges and concessional loans for developmental projects, as well as the restoration and conservation of ancient temples in the Kingdom.

In the context of India’s “Act East” policy and Asean, Cambodia is an important interlocutor and a good partner. Contemporary times have witnessed the expansion of cooperation in such diverse fields as institutional capacity building, human resources development and the extension of financial assistance in infrastructure projects, social security projects and capacity building in defence.

Trade and investment figures have changed positively in recent years.

India exported $178.24 million worth of goods to Cambodia, showing 48.19 per cent increase, in 2018, while imports valued at $48.45 million, increasing by 0.90 per cent in the same year.

Total trade reached $226.69 million in 2018, an increase of 34.69 per cent compared to 2017.

To promote trade and business relations, Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu visited Cambodia in May 2018 to participate in the India-CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) Business Conclave in Phnom Penh, and held meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on trade improvement and connectivity.

India and Cambodia have jointly organised events in the Kingdom, such as the 5th India-CLMV Business Conclave and the Incredible India Roadshow in May 2018.

As well as organising events in the Kingdom, a Cambodian government and business delegation were invited to India to participate in the Advantage Assam-India’s Expressway to Asean in February 2018 and the FICCI Higher Education Summit, Saurastra Vepar Udyog Maha Mandi (SVUM) in July 2018, as well as other mega events and expos.

Moreover, Sorasak led a Cambodian delegation to the 4th India-Asean Expo and Summit in New Delhi in March last year.

Indian companies investing across multiple sectors in the Kingdom include Mesco Gold, Bajaj Cambodia and Sram Mram Ltd.

The Indian government has planned to increase Indian economic presence in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. India’s trade with the four nations has experienced significant growth over the years, from $460 million in 2000 to $4.97 billion in 2004 and $14.5 billion in 2017.

Currently South Asia’s largest trading partner with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, India is negotiating the India-Cambodia Bilateral Investment Treaty.

Cambodia and India have signed agreements on cooperation in the areas such as agriculture, scientific and technological cooperation, entrepreneurship development and tourism. The economic relations between the countries are also facilitated by the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation and the Asean-India Free Trade Agreement.

With Cambodia and India moving into the future together, they enjoy thousands of years of close history stretching behind them.