Cambodia-Singapore: 55 years after diplomatic ties

Historically, Singapore has been a time-tested friend of Cambodia. Diplomatic relations between  two countries were established on 10 August 1965, -a day after Singapore  gained independence making the Kingdom of Cambodia one of the very first countries to recognize the independent Republic of Singapore.

The diplomatic ties were cut off in 1975, and were resumed on 18 January 1992. However, during this interregnum, Singapore had maintained trade relations with Cambodia. In the 1980s, Cambodia had  an economic embargo following the demise of the Khmer Rouge regime. The trade and economic relations with Singapore provided crucial support to Cambodia during this difficult period. The timely humanitarian assistance that was provided to Cambodia and channelled through Singapore during the 1980s allowed Cambodia to embark on rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in key economic sectors.

Cambodia and Singapore  have close cooperation at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. Over the last decade, the ties and economic relations between two nations have grown steadily, sustained by a regular momentum of state visits between Heads of State and government, leaders of the two countries. The foundation of the close relationship between two nations was shaped by His Majesty King-Father Norodom Sihanouk and His Excellency Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. The then Prime Minister Lee was a frequent visitor to Cambodia and was conferred a doctorate honoris causa by the Royal University of Phnom Penh  in December 1967 for his contributions to strengthening Cambodia-Singapore relations. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen officially visited Singapore in 2000, while Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong paid an official visit to Cambodia in May 2001. Mr Goh’s visit resulted in: i) The promotion of Singapore foreign direct investment to Cambodia, ii) The enhancing of human resource development in Cambodia and iii) The Provision of a Tourism Development Master Plan for the Cambodian government. His Excellency Singaporean President S. R. Nathan paid a state visit to Cambodia in February 2003 at the invitation of His Majesty King-Father Norodom Sihanouk. His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni paid a state visit to Singapore in March 2006. In March 2005, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid a visit to Cambodia. In March 2015 Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a visit Singapore twice for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s State Funeral Service. Frequent exchanges of visits by the leaders of Cambodia and Singapore have helped further solidify the already excellent bilateral relations between the two countries and their people and promotion of Singapore’s foreign direct investment, enhancement of human resource development, and the tourism development plan for Cambodia.

The relationship between Cambodia and Singapore  was not only built through trade and business, but also was tested through time. Singapore has been a major supporter of Cambodia especially during the oppressive period of Khmer Rouge. The two countries have very good diplomatic relations that continue to grow and work in building a united and cohesive Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN.

Cambodia and Singapore also work closely on technical cooperation through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). Singapore established the Cambodia-Singapore Training Centre in Phnom Penh in 2002 under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration to train Cambodian officials. To boost economic integration and the adoption of technology in the region, the Cambodia-Singapore Training Centre was upgraded to a Singapore Cooperation Centre in 2018.

After 55 years since two nations have established diplomatic relations ties, under the reign of the Cambodian King, the leadership of Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and  Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has achieved several profound accomplishments. Now, Cambodia has one of the fastest economic growth in the world, as well as political security, social order, solidarity, prosperity and stability. The position of Cambodia in the international stage has been improved steadily.

Moreover, Cambodia-Singapore relations keep a strong momentum. Two countries have constantly tightened bilateral relations in various fields. For example in the political area,  in the first Cambodia-Singapore Political Consultations both countries promoting good relations, friendship and close cooperation between the two countries, both in bilateral and multilateral parties with the aims to monitor and strengthen bilateral cooperation in all sectors and continue regional cooperation with the exchange of visits on both local and international matters for the benefit of both countries. In terms of economy, in 2019 Cambodia attracted nearly $3.6 billion from FDIs, of which 43 percent came from China, 11 percent from South Korea, 7 percent from Vietnam, six percent, from Singapore and six percent from Japan. Singapore ranked number fourth-largest investor with $216 million among countries and territories that investment in Cambodia and bilateral relations hit a high in 2019, with trade totally $4.2 billion mainly in agricultural goods. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral trade had reached nearly $2 billion in June this year.

The relations between Cambodia and Singapore had been “nurtured and deepened”, due to the high-level exchanges and cooperation in trade, tourism, culture and people-to-people contact and will continue to develop and reach a new higher level in the future.

By: UCH Leang, Department of Asian, African and Middle East Studies of International Relation Institute of Cambodia.