Japanese diplomats pledged to further strengthen Cambodia-Japan relations by sending 40 referees to assist Cambodia in hosting the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which take place in May.

The pledge was made during a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Japan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shunsuke Takei along with renowned Japanese singer and actress Yoko Minamino on February 23, at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

According to the premier’s personal assistant Eang Sophalleth, Takei was pleased with the two countries’ bilateral relations having been elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership, as well as their closer cooperation, especially in the fields of national security and demining.

“[Takei] will continue to strengthen the relationship between the two countries and in the coming days Japan will send 40 referees to help Cambodia in organising the SEA Games,” Sophalleth said, adding that Hun Sen thanked Japan for encouraging investment in Cambodia as well as for sending referees to help officiate the SEA Games and other assistance.

According to Sophalleth, singer Minamino told Hun Sen about her visits to Cambodia in 1989 and 2013. She recalled that the Cambodian people at the time had welcomed her warmly and that she wrote the song “Rainbow for Tomorrow” about Cambodia.

“During this visit, [Minamino] informed [Hun Sen] that she will visit an orphan boy she met in 1989. And as a goodwill ambassador for the 70th anniversary of friendship between Cambodia and Japan, she will do her best to strengthen the relationship between the two countries,” Sophalleth said.

Minamino is a well-known Japanese singer and actress with close ties to Cambodia. She first visited Cambodia in 1989 before the Japanese embassy reopened in Phnom Penh as part of a television project, and she visited the Kingdom again in 2013.

In May 2022, Japan presented Minamino’s original song “Rainbow for Tomorrow” at a ceremony attended by Cambodia’s foreign ministry secretary of state Tuot Panha and Masahiro Mikami, who was Japan’s ambassador at the time.

Minamino said the song “truly reflects the reality of Cambodia in the late 1980s and the gradual transformation of the country”, as well as the close people-to-people connections between the two nations.

Panha said at the ceremony that the song touched Hun Sen’s heart when it was presented to him at a dinner hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Kumamoto, Japan, in April when he attended the Asia-Pacific Water Summit.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post on February 23 that Japan has always provided assistance to Cambodia in the areas of infrastructure like bridges, water supply, schools, legal aid and technology assistance to The National Election Committee (NEC).

“This time, Japan has promised to help by sending 40 more referees for the SEA Games. This is in line with what the two governments have promoted as strategic partners in all aspects of the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations. I applaud the two governments for setting up this comprehensive strategic partnership and look forward to further growth of Japanese assistance,” he said.

Peou said that the Cambodian people always value Japanese aid because the material goods are always of the highest quality as is their construction of infrastructure.

“This is what impressed the Cambodian people, so the Japanese people as well as the Japanese government are in the hearts of the entire Cambodian people,” he said.