Cambodia has suggested an exploration with Laos into the development of a mutually complementary and supportive suite of joint policies to consolidate bilateral cooperation and potentially aid ASEAN’s smallest economy in its mission to overcome its landlocked condition and transition into a thriving land-linked country.
Prime Minister Hun Sen floated the idea during a courtesy call by Lao foreign minister Saleumxay Kommasith on the morning of July 7 at the Peace Palace, according to a statement.
Saleumxay arrived in Cambodia on July 6 for his visit centred around the 14th Meeting of the Cambodia-Laos Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), held in the afternoon of July 7.
“In the interest of bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and Laos, we should jointly evaluate and launch policies that complement each other, for the benefit of both countries,” Hun Sen said in the statement, posted on his official Facebook page.
Saleumxay congratulated the prime minister for his “successful” stewardship of ASEAN as its chairman in 2022, and pledged Laos’ commitment to supporting Cambodia’s role as the bloc’s rotating chair, especially when it comes to seeking solutions to the Myanmar issue, according to the statement.
He also congratulated Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on their “splendid” success in the June 5 commune council elections, it said, emphasising that the poll results reflect public confidence in the premier’s “correct” leadership.
Saleumxay thanked the Cambodian government for its continued assistance to Laos in Covid-19 prevention, and requested Hun Sen’s recommendations on how to improve relations and cooperation between the two countries.
Speaking to The Post on July 7, Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou noted that the Kingdom’s northern neighbour is landlocked – without access to the sea – and that its trade depends on other countries’ seaports. Peou stated that Cambodia is, by and large, keen to provide Laos with access to the sea.
Additionally, the Mekong River and other shared geographical features add another layer of significance to interdependence and mutual support between Cambodia and Laos, he said.
Peou also drew attention to historical, cultural and religious similarities, noting that Cambodia and Laos were colonised by France and had mounted resistance movements against the occupying forces, and also share respect for Buddhism. Mutual support through these historical links has largely shaped the modern history of both nations, he said.
“Regional and international political aspects require us to support each other. We could say that both countries are small, but we cannot say that a small country must be weak. To make our small countries strong, we must cooperate,” he added.
Offering examples of the symbiotic links between the two countries, Peou pointed out that although Cambodia has provided Laos with Covid-19 vaccines, the Kingdom also buys electricity from its northern neighbour, a country rich in natural resources and hydropower. Similarly, traders have been active in border areas on either side for many years, he said.
“In sum, there are no two ways about it – these mutual safeguards will provide benefits to both nations and allow us to be firm and stand strong in the face of modern geopolitical competition,” he added.
To offset Laos’ landlocked handicap and move closer to its land-linked dreams, its government has been pushing ahead with a variety of projects to link the country to regional transport systems and better integrate it into global value chains. These include the Laos-China Railway, which runs from Vientiane to Kunming in China, and the 382ha Vientiane Logistics Park (VLP), both of which opened to great fanfare in December.