Two ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) have docked at Preah Sihanouk Autonomous Port to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the JMSDF’s first Peacekeeping Operation (PKO), with a military drill and visit to Ream Naval Base planned for their crews’ three-day visit.
The two ships, named JS Uraga and JS Hirado, are part of the Indo-Pacific and Middle East Deployment 2021 (IMED21) units, and visited Cambodia to “strengthen cooperation” and help to realise a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, the press statement issued by the JMSDF said. It added that their objectives were to “promote friendship and mutual understanding with the Royal Cambodian Navy”.
The ships docked at the port on March 14 with 185 crew onboard. Crew members carried out a goodwill exercise with the Royal Cambodian Navy on March 15, with a military drill and visit to Ream Naval Base also on the agenda. They will be departing on March 17.
Vice Admiral Ouk Seyha, Deputy Commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy, greeted his Japanese counterpart at the welcoming ceremony in Sihanoukville. He noted that the Preah Sihanouk Autonomous Port has received Japan’s navy nine times since 2008, with a total of 27 ships docking at the port.
Captain Yasushi Noguchi, the Commander of First Unit of Mine Acton in the Indo-Pacific who led the two ships, said: “I am greatly honoured to be able to lead my crew to dock and visit Cambodia during this anniversary year. I strongly believe that this visit and docking will contribute to strengthening the friendship, not only between our Self-Defense Forces and the Cambodian Navy, but also between the two countries in general.”
He added that the docking and visit promoted military cooperation and will contribute to stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions.
Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami observed that Japan and Cambodia have had a long history of friendship and cooperation.
“Japan will work with Cambodia to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the whole region, ensuring a rule-based international order with transparency and comprehensiveness, based on the centrality and solidarity of ASEAN,” he said.
He noted that next year will be the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries. As the world moves into a new era, the two countries will continue to be trusting partners that can address any challenges, he added.
Minister of National Defense Tea Banh said Prime Minister Hun Sen, who attended a welcoming dinner reception with the Japanese navy crew, had placed high value on this visit, in particular on Japan’s historical PKO.
While welcoming the visit, Tea Banh was quick to stress his belief that the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which was set up in 1992 to supervise the ceasefire and organise free and fair elections – and through which Japan dispatched its Self-Defence Force personnel to help implement the authority’s aims – was “just a stepping stone” to achieving full peace in Cambodia.
“UNTAC had been factor in peace-building, but I can say frankly that the mission was just a small piece of the puzzle. Cambodia back then was partly divided, with guerilla fighting continuing even after the election in 1993.
“It was only in the last 20-plus years, with the ‘win-win’ policy of Prime Minster Hun Sen, that full peace has been achieved in all corners of Cambodia. This is the truth. What I want to stress is that international forces could only partly help us in peace-building efforts,” he said.
On global issues, Tea Banh noted that the world continues to face numerous challenges, identifying the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine conflict as obstacles that are “testament to the fact that peace is priceless and must be protected”.
“Our history shows that foreign and militaristic interference to determine any governance system for others is not a solution,” he said, without indicating which countries he was referring to.
The defence minister praised Japan for its support of Cambodia in many aspects, especially the training of personnel that had been dispatched to join the UN peacekeeping mission.
“I can say that Cambodia has its strengths, but we are still poor, especially since we still lack some equipment, tools and technical knowledge. So, we would like more support from the international community and our friends.
“Their support, through supplying equipment and training, is very important in allowing Cambodia to fulfill its mission [of peace] effectively and successfully,” he said.
Tea Banh said there will be more opportunities for bilateral cooperation with Japan in the near future, naming the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, future collaborative training and exercises and more instances of JMSDF ships docking at Preah Sihanouk port.
Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said the JMSDF ship marks another milestone in the two countries’ ties as Japan is a core figure in the Indo-Pacific strategy.
“Cambodia also wants to show to the world that other countries are also welcome to dock their ship in its ports and develop bilateral relations, and that it does not only welcome China [as alleged]. This has proven to be true with its relationship with Japan. Cambodia is diversifying its foreign policy and economic diplomacy,” he said.