This week, the British Embassy in Phnom Penh will celebrate the official birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The queen celebrates two birthdays each year: Her actual birthday on April 21 and her official birthday in June. Her official birthday is the national day of the United Kingdom, which comprises England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Official celebrations to mark each sovereign’s birthday have been held in the UK since 1748 in May or June when there was a greater likelihood of good weather for the celebrations.
Each year on her official birthday, the queen is joined by other members of the royal family at the spectacular Trooping the Colour parade, which moves between Buckingham Palace, the Mall and Horse Guards Parade in London.
Her Majesty the Queen is now in the 63rd year of her reign. Her coronation took place in 1953, the same year that Cambodia achieved independence. From a unique vantage point as head of the Commonwealth of Nations, which currently has 53 member states, she has witnessed the momentous political and social changes in Britain, Europe and the world over this period. Earlier this month, she paid a state visit to France at the invitation of President Francois Hollande and attended the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day Normandy landings, which ultimately led to the ending of World War II.
The public celebrations here last month for the birthday of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni were a testament to the fact that Cambodia and the UK share an attachment to the system of constitutional monarchies and the aspirations of the Cambodian Constitution: “Cambodia is a Kingdom with a King who shall rule according to the Constitution and to the principles of liberal democracy and pluralism.”
The links between our two countries are ever-expanding and being reinforced through education, trade and tourism. More than 100,000 British tourists visit Cambodia every year. British companies are becoming increasingly active in the Cambodian market in production, retail and services. And more Cambodian students are looking at UK institutions for education – either in the English language or other disciplines – both through studying in the UK or by following remote-learning courses from home. The British government recently announced an increase from 2015 in the number of Chevening Scholarships – our official program for sponsoring high-potential individuals from around the world to undertake postgraduate studies in the UK. Together with some generous private sector sponsorship, we hope to triple the number of these awards next year.
As a member state of the European Union, the UK will continue to make a significant contribution to Cambodia’s development across a broad range of sectors, including agriculture, governance, capacity building in the judiciary, human rights and environmental protection. Bilaterally, we will continue to support the vital work of demining in this country, further reducing death and injury and freeing up whole tracts of land for communities to reclaim and farm. And we will maintain our support for the ECCC, trying those most responsible for atrocities carried out during the Khmer Rouge period, to progress its work efficiently and expeditiously.
Last week, the UK hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, including an event at Pannasastra University, which explored the appalling effects of sexual violence. Many countries have suffered these crimes, including Cambodia, and have experiences to share with the rest of the world.
The UK is now forging new relationships with Cambodia and with the ASEAN region. We are looking to create a dynamic new partnership on security and trade, working together on open economies and free societies which will bring long-term success to the region. In a month’s time, EU and ASEAN foreign ministers will meet to discuss ways of further reducing barriers between our regions and of supporting the success of the ASEAN Economic Community.
In all areas, we look to work in partnership with the royal government of Cambodia, civil society, the private sector and the general public with whom we most frequently interact through our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheUKinCambodia) and Twitter (@ukincambodia). I look forward to welcoming representatives from all these groups (including some of our Facebook followers) to our queen’s birthday party this week to thank them for their cooperation and support over the last year and to encourage even greater efforts as we move forward.
Bill Longhurst is the British ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia.