I extend my warmest greetings to all Indians and friends of India on the occasion of the 74th Independence Day of India.
Saturday is the anniversary of India’s Independence, a time to take stock, of our achievements – which are not few and should be celebrated – and also of the challenges as we work with our global friends towards a better future for all.
The world is going through unforeseen and unprecedented challenges that have negatively impacted lives and livelihoods and can only be surmounted by goodwill and strong partnerships.
The India-Cambodia friendship is historic and time-tested. The relationship between the two countries spans many sectors and straddles our common culture, heritage and religion.
India and Cambodia have traditionally partnered in music, dance, architecture, philosophy, linguistics and religion, as well as trade and economics.
In modern times, the engagement has diversified into many other areas such as humanitarian relief, social and economic development, capacity building, training, commerce and investment, assistance in developmental projects, science and technology, defense capabilities and adding to each others’ voice for common good in international forums.
Though this year started with the new challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, our bilateral cooperation has not diminished. Of course, there were some hiccups in March and April when many of our planned and scheduled programmes had to be postponed.
However, both India and Cambodia rose to the new challenges and found ways of cooperating in this new reality.
On June 10, Mr Narendra Modi, the Honourable Prime Minister of India and Samdech Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia discussed through telephonic conversation, the coronavirus pandemic and means of driving engagement under the changed circumstances.
Both countries have had citizens stranded in the others’ territory because of travel restrictions imposed by countries in the region to contain the spread of the virus.
However, the governments of India and Cambodia facilitated direct evacuation flights from and to Cambodia and India.
Under the “Vande Bharat Mission”, India evacuated her citizens from Cambodia on two flights, one operated by her national carrier Air India and the other by a private charter.
Likewise, Cambodia also evacuated her citizens from India through a charter flight and the rest returned to Cambodia on a special Air India flight.
These also included some Cambodian nationals evacuated from the Maldives on a special Air India flight from Male to New Delhi.
I thank the Cambodian government for its excellent assistance in this evacuation process.
I also wish to place on record my heartfelt appreciation to the Ministry of Health for extending all possible cooperation in the evacuation of a critically ill Indian.
During this year, despite difficulties, we witnessed that the imports and exports were not severely disrupted, and India has ensured that the export of all essential medicines to Cambodia does not get affected.
Bilateral trade between India and Cambodia has been consistently increasing over the past few years. Total trade between the two countries in 2017 was $168.02 million, which grew significantly to $250.41 million last year.
Due to decreased demand and economic disruption, we presume that there will be a decrease in trade this year, but we are optimistic that this situation will improve in 2021.
We are pleased that the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce has agreed to the Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group on bilateral trade. We have also taken cognizance of Cambodia’s desire to initiate negotiations regarding FTA between India and Cambodia.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, India did not even temporarily stop the preservation and conservation work at the iconic Ta Prohm temple in the Angkor Wat complex.
We have continued other collaborative projects also, such as the continuation of the ICCR Chair of Buddhism and Philosophy at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University.
The Embassy of India continues the teaching of yoga as well as to encourage Cambodians to maintain a healthy and stress-free lifestyle. The distribution of medicines, masks and other health materials for the prevention of Covid-19 have also been provided whenever requested.
We have continued our support and disbursement of funds for various Quick Impact Projects, which were launched last year.
This year, we have been financing 15 projects that are running under various departments and ministries of Cambodia.
Under India’s Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme, in addition to offering training courses to our partners, we have specially organized customised training courses for National Election Committee officials as well as for the officials for the Ministry of Justice.
Our commitment to Defense cooperation, particularly to demining and peacekeeping operations, is visible from our different training and capacity-building programmes. The agreement signed last Monday to provide a $1.5 million grant to enable the purchase of demining equipment by Cambodia is indicative of that commitment.
We had earlier gifted 15 sniffer dogs and are actively considering a request to add to them. As a regular goodwill visit, two Indian Naval Ships – the INS Kiltan and INS Sahyadri – made a port call to Cambodia in September 2019.
India is also committed to better connectivity with the ASEAN region. Confederation of Indian Industry organized a virtual Summit, “India ASEAN Oceanic Business Meet and Expo” which brought together governments and other stakeholders from the region to discuss challenges and solutions to improve physical, knowledge and digital connectivity.
India has also been virtually holding various health and capacity building programmes with the countries of the ASEAN region.
Cambodia has been participating in these forums, and I am confident that the sharing of experiences on these platforms will help each of us carve out strategies to overcome present challenges and build a better future for us all.
I am confident that the people of India and Cambodia have a bright future and the two countries have immense potential to come together for productive outcomes.
I wish that the friendship between our two countries may grow from strength to strength.
To end, I wish you all to have four gems of Buddhist blessings – longevity, nobility, health and strength.
HE Manika Jain, Ambassador of the Republic of India to the Kingdom of Cambodia