Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and outgoing Australian ambassador Pablo Kang expressed satisfaction with the present relationship and bilateral cooperation between their two nations during a January 4 farewell call.

During the meeting, to thank him for his contribution to cementing ties between them, Kang received the highest distinction of the Order of Sahametrei medal from Sokhonn.

Sokhonn thanked Australia for the provision of nearly 3 million doses of Pfizer vaccines and 133 vaccine freezers as well as official development assistance in many areas, including agriculture, infrastructure, demining and human resource development. He was also heartened by the rising trend of two-way trade between the two countries.

“Kang congratulated Cambodia for its admirable role as ASEAN chair 2022 and the successful hosting of the ASEAN Summits and Related Meetings and welcomed the substantial conclusion of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) negotiations,” said a January 4 press release from the foreign affairs ministry.

Kang posted his appreciation to social media on January 4, saying he was honoured to receive the Order of Sahametrei medal, as approved by His Majesty King Sihamoni.

“I accepted the medal on behalf of all the staff of the Australian Embassy for their work over the past 3 years of Covid-19,” he said.

He added that on January 3 he discussed the current state of defence cooperation with Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the commander of the army, including Australia’s ongoing Covid-19 related assistance to the RCAF since 2020, as well as the outlook for this year’s national elections.

Last October, Manet paid a visit to Australia, where he attended a three-day Land Forces International Land Defense Exposition.

“I hoped that conditions remain right for the expansion of our ties from this year onwards,” Kang concluded.

Thong Mengdavid, research fellow at the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies of the Asian Vision Institute, said that during Kang’s tenure, Cambodia and Australia had promoted and enhanced bilateral relations between the two countries, especially though Australia’s support for Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

Strategically, Australia provided options in addition to China-US relationships, in terms of fostering military, security and trade cooperation, and human resource development in Cambodia.

“Australia is a powerful anchor in the Indo-Pacific region, enabling ASEAN to have space for political, diplomatic and economic development, security, stability and prosperity in the region.

“The development of security in the region is sharp due to major power competition in the region and the war in Ukraine,” he added.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, was of the view that Cambodia and Australian had recently expanded their bilateral and multilateral relations, with the two countries seeming to noticeably understand each other better.

He also noted progress in trade relations and investment, especially human resource development.

“Strategically, the two countries need each other. Cambodia needs to diversify its diplomacy and Australia is a middle power in the region. A good relationship with Australia helps Cambodia with political diversification. Australia makes a significant contribution to trade, investment and aid for Cambodia,” he added.

Seng Vanly, a professor of international relations and a regional political observer, agreed that Australia needs Cambodia to get close to ASEAN, the largest bloc in the Mekong sub-region. Cambodia needs Australia as a partner in economic development, human resource training and education. Australia is also a good friend of the US, so it can serve as a regulator for Cambodia-US relationships.