Transcript of Special Briefing by Secretary (East) on visit of the King of Cambodia to India (May 26, 2023)

May 27, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Very Good afternoon to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us for this special media briefing on the forthcoming visit of His Majesty, the King of Cambodia. To give us a sense of the visit and what we expect, we have the privilege of having with us here on the dais, Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as Shri Ravi Shankar, Additional Secretary looking after the Southern Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. Sir, if you would like to make some opening remarks and then we can take a few questions.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): Welcome and Namaskar to all of you. His Majesty, Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia will pay his maiden visit to India from 29th to 31st of May, 2023. He will be accompanied by a 27 member high-level delegation including Minister of Royal Palace, Vice President of the Senate, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other senior officials from the Royal Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The state visit will coincide with the culmination of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Cambodia which were established in 1952. A state visit to India by the King of Cambodia is taking place after almost six decades with the last one being that of current King's father, King Norodom Sihanouk in 1963. The last visit to Cambodia by the President of India was that of President Smt. Pratibha Patil in 2010. President Rajendra Prasad had visited Cambodia in 1959. The visit will commence in the morning on 30th May, 2023 with the ceremonial guard of honour for His Majesty at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. He would then visit Rajghat to pay his floral tributes there. His Majesty will meet the President, Vice President and Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister will call on him. President will host a banquet in honour of the King at Rashtrapati Bhawan.

I will give you a brief background about our relations with Cambodia. Historically, India and Cambodia relations have their roots in Hindu and Buddhist cultural influences which emanated from India. These historical links continue to provide a strong foundation to our contemporary ties. India established diplomatic relations with Cambodia in 1952. After the fall of Khmer Rouge regime, India was the first democratic country to recognize the new government in Cambodia and reopened its diplomatic mission in 1981. India also played an active and positive role in the finalization of the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and contributed towards the conduct of UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia or UNTAC sponsored elections in 1993. This contribution of India is appreciated and remembered in Cambodia even today. Cambodia is an important interlocutor in the context of our Act East Policy, the ASEAN and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. Cambodia hosted the first India-ASEAN summit in 2002 when it held the chair of ASEAN. In 2022, again during the Cambodian chair of ASEAN, the ASEAN-India relations were elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

Let me give you a sense of some of the specific areas of cooperation. An important area is conservation and restoration of ancient temples in Cambodia by India. Since 1986, India through the Archaeological Survey of India has been engaged in conservation and restoration of ancient temples in Cambodia. In late 80s and early 90s, restoration work was carried out on Angkor Wat. Restoration of Ta Prohm Temple has completed two phases, while the third phase of work is underway. Last year restoration work commenced on Preah Vihear, a world heritage site and one of the oldest temples of Lord Shiva. Human resource development and capacity building is another important area of our engagement with Cambodia. India is actively assisting Cambodia in capacity building and human resource development through training slots under ITEC program and ICCR scholarships. More than 2,200 Cambodian nationals have been imparted training under ITEC program since 1981. 30 ICCR scholarships are available to Cambodian students on an annual basis. Lines of credit of around US$100 million have been extended to Cambodia for projects in infrastructure, water resources and power transmission lines amongst others. Cambodia has benefited from 48 quick impact projects targeted towards local communities in areas such as education, health, sanitation, ecotourism and infrastructure. 31 of these have been completed and 17 of these projects are under implementation.

Let me also touch upon Defense and Demining cooperation which we have with Cambodia. This includes training courses for Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, training in demining and peacekeeping modules, providing demining equipment as well as goodwill visits by Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships and exchange of official delegations. India has extended a grant of US$1.5 million for procurement of demining equipment, gifted sniffer dogs and offered a US$50 million line of credit for capacity building and other related works for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. Customized training courses for more than 80 Cambodian Armed personnel will be held this year in different areas. The first army-to-army staff talks between India and Cambodia were conducted in April 2023. Lieutenant-General Hun Manet, who is the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, visited India in February this year.

India and Cambodia trade is around US$320 million with Indian exports of US$198 million and imports from Cambodia at US$122 million. Cumulative investments from India in Cambodia are estimated at US$115 million, primarily in pharmaceuticals, two and three wheelers and some in the area of mining. Cambodia has been supportive of India in international fora. It has joined the International Solar Alliance. A delegation from Cambodia recently participated in the launch of the International Big Cat Alliance. In January 2023, Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the inaugural leaders' session of the Voice of the Global South Summit, which was hosted virtually by the Honorable Prime Minister.

So let me conclude by saying that the visit of His Majesty, the King, will be an opportunity to consolidate and strengthen our relations. The visit has a strong symbolic value, coming as it does on the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It would also contribute to our efforts to add greater content to our trade, economic, defense, culture and people-to-people ties. Interaction at top political levels, provide a momentum to relations and the visit of His Majesty would also do the same. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you, sir. And before I open the floor for questions, please introduce yourself and the organization that you represent.

Sir, Rishikesh from PTI. Is there any plan to gift tiger to Cambodia?

Meghna Dev: Sir, I'm Meghna Dev from DD News. I have an additional question to that. India and Cambodia signed the MoU with focus on tiger re-introduction in Cambodia. Will this be discussed and is any translocation likely on the cards in the near future?

Shashank Mattoo: Sir, Shashank Mattoo with the Mint. Sir, the defense relationship with Cambodia has deepened a deal in the last few years. We provided them some demining equipment. We have also had, the Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also met the Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army. Is there anything planned for the deepening of the defense relationship and additional equipment that India might be interested in providing to Cambodia during this visit? Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sir, let me pass on these three questions.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): So, Rishikesh and your question, I'll take them together. So, it is true that the Memorandum of Understanding in this particular area was signed between India and Cambodia. This is an area on which we are having discussions and during the current visit, we expect that the entire gamut of our relationship would be discussed between the King and his interlocutors when the conversations take place.

Mattoo, as far as the defense relationship is concerned, I just mentioned in my opening remarks that our defense engagement with Cambodia is increasing. You are aware that General Hun Manet visited the country. This was a very significant visit. We plan to have a very specific number of training slots this particular year to be provided to the Cambodian side. Earlier this year, the army to army staff talks took place. This was the first staff talks between the armies of the two countries. We have a 50 million line of credit which has been extended to the Cambodian side and you know how it is to be utilized is something which is being discussed. So, we have on the defense side, our relationship is growing and we would be working more in this particular area also.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Srinjoy.

Just a clarification sir. Just recently there were these exercises between the Indian Navy and ASEAN Navies. Can you tell us a little about the Cambodian input in this?

Shashank Mattoo: Sir, again Shashank Mattoo with the Mint. Sir, the bilateral trade and economic relationship with Cambodia has been, as compared to some of our other relationships, slightly underdeveloped. Is there a sense of any trade facilitation agreements or economic agreements that both sides have planned to make sure that investment from India into Cambodia increases and more trade can flow across borders?

Sridhar: Sir, Sridhar from The Asian Age. Sir, Cambodia is viewed as perhaps the ASEAN nation closest to China in terms of its relationship. So, considering that we are now stepping up the defense ties, is it there to sort of balance out the ties? How would you look at it?

Shri Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East): So, you are right that you know we had the first India-ASEAN maritime exercise, which was held sometime back and Cambodia being a part of the ASEAN was very much a part of this particular event. As far as trade is concerned, our trade has been growing with Cambodia over the last couple of years. While there is no agreement which would be signed during this particular visit, our effort is to see the steps which need to be taken to enhance our trade and investment ties. And in fact, bilateral investment agreement is presently being discussed with Cambodia as we are discussing it with many other countries.

Sridhar, as you mentioned about Cambodia's relationship with China, we do not look at our relationship with Cambodia through the prism of Cambodia's relationship with any other country. Our relationship with Cambodia stands on its own feet. It is, as I have mentioned, strengthening and diversifying and it is our effort to see that different areas of our engagement with Cambodia further grow and strengthen.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you also to Shri Ravi Shankar for joining us today. We'll be seeing the visit from Monday and today we'll issue a formal press release a little later to announce the visit. Thank you.


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