Joint Press Briefing with Cambodian Foreign Minister His Excellency Hor Nam Hong

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

22 February 2014

His Excellency Hor Nam Hong, Foreign Minister, Royal Government of Cambodia: Welcome to the guests. Just now I had bilateral talk with Honorable Minister of Australia on bilateral relations. We also talk on ASEAN - Australian relations. Honorable Minister of Australia will meet this afternoon with His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng to discuss on the current situation in Cambodia. During our meeting I inform Honorable Minister of the provisional information regarding Cambodia’s situation.

I will leave the details to the discussion between the Honorable Minister of Australia and the Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng this afternoon. What I have told Honorable Minister is that the action taken by the government of Cambodia in the past what we are going to do now and in the future will be in accordance with the constitution and laws of Cambodia. I would like to stress that there is no political deadlock in Cambodia. Right now all the Government institutions are functioning normally. I inform the Honorable Minister in order to understand the current position of the opposition party now, want it to look back to the statements of the opposition party before the elections. Prior to the election, they agreed to participate in the election but after the election they refused to recognize it. So whatever actions they have done right now have been prepared previously. The opposition party want to change the electoral law. It want to have a new election before the terms. However the reforms the discussion of the reforms needs to take place in the National Assembly and not on the street. This is the initial information I provided to Honorable Minister of Australia. I am sure His Excellency Sar Kheng will inform Honorable Minister of Australia further in detail regarding the issues.

I and Honorable Minister of Australia talked more in detail regarding bilateral relations as well as ASEAN – Australia relations. On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia I thanks Australia for providing enormous support to Cambodia. This includes ODA, the assistance which goes directly through the Royal Government of Cambodia, also assistance in human resource development. Through this assistance many Cambodian officials and students have conducted their studies in Australia. Australia has also despatched over 200 volunteers to work in different parts of and different sectors in Cambodia. Australia has assisted also through the Mekong River Commission, the GMS – the Greater Mekong Subregion. Australian assistance has provided a lot of assistance in the area of demining. Apart from providing development assistance to Cambodia Australia has a very important role in the Cambodia peace process in the 1990s. So Cambodia has got assistance from Australia for the terms of the peace process as well as in the area of development.

Concerning Australian ASEAN relationship I wish to say that this year in Myanmar there will be Australia-ASEAN commemorative summit. This commemorative summit will take the relationship between ASEAN and Australia a step closer. It may also (pause) it will lead to regular summit between ASEAN and Australia. Australia has provided a lot of assistance through ASEAN and we acknowledge and appreciate this assistance. Australia assisted initiative for ASEAN integration. Australia assistance goes through the IAI Workplan One, Workplan Two 2005-2015. Australian assistance also go to many other sectors in ASEAN. Australia has very close relationship with ASEAN countries. Honorable Minister of Australia has raised a number of issues both in terms of bilateral relations as well as Australia’s relation with ASEAN.

I would like to leave the floor to Honorable Minister.

Australian Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop: Your Excellency thanks for the very warm welcome I have received in the Kingdom of Cambodia on this my first visit as Australia’s Foreign Minister. I had a very productive meeting with your Prime Minister this morning. I will be meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister this afternoon and I am grateful for the opportunity that we had to discuss so many matters of common interest and we ranged from the bilateral to the regional to the global in our discussions. My visit to Cambodia at this time is part of a broader visit to ASEAN countries in this the 40th year of Australia’s relationship with ASEAN as a dialogue partner.

As His Excellency pointed out there will be a commemorative summit for ASEAN Australia relations in Myanmar in November this year at which time we hope that a leaders meeting between the Australian Prime Minister and the leaders of the ASEAN countries will take place. Australia places great importance on ASEAN’s leadership role in Southeast Asia and its influence in supporting the East Asia Summit as a preeminent regional forum that deals with strategic and economic issues affecting our region.

Of course our relationship with Cambodia is much deeper and broader than just the ASEAN membership for indeed our close ties go back to the 1950s and perhaps more significantly since the early 1990s when Australian Lieutenant Colonel John Sanderson was the military commander of the UNTAC mission here in Cambodia.

Australia has long supported the democratic process in Cambodia. Indeed we supported the first democratic elections in 1993. Australia is an open liberal democracy that places much importance on democratic values such as freedoms, rule of law and free and fair elections. And in sharing Australia’s experience with His Excellency I acknowledged the 18th of February agreement reached between the Cambodian Government and the opposition which we believe should augur well for future dialogue.

Australia has long supported Cambodia’s development and economic growth. In the area of overseas development assistance in the last ten years Australia has invested almost $600 million in Cambodia’s development. Australia firmly believes that the best way to alleviate poverty and to lift standards of living is to support sustainable economic growth. Hence while we support health and educational outcomes we also invest in productivity enhancing infrastructure - for example to enable farmers to get their products to market. Since 1994 Australia has invested about $90 million in mine clearing activities not only to ensure the safety and security of the people of Cambodia but also to ensure that land can be made available for productive purposes to help grow the economy.

We acknowledge Cambodia’s economic growth forecast to be 7.2% in 2014 and later today I will be meeting with Australian business representatives who are doing business here investing in Cambodia and discussing opportunities for greater two-way trade between our two countries.

Our bilateral ties are strong because people to people links are deep. There are about 28,000 people of Cambodian origin living in Australia and contributing to Australian society and our way of life. Australians are also fascinated by the history the culture and the beauty of Cambodia and last year about 120,000 Australians visited Cambodia. Finally we recognise the challenges that Cambodia faces. We recognise Cambodia’s efforts, particularly in contributing to the international community the role of Cambodian peacekeepers and we encourage Cambodia to continue on its journey to be a regional leader, to contribute internationally and to be an enduring friend of Australia and Your Excellency I thank you for your generous welcome.

His Excellency Hor Nam Hong, Foreign Minister Royal Government of Cambodia: I wish to add a few points. The Honorable Minister of Australia had a meeting with Samdech Dacho Prime Minister. Australian Minister Australia raised a proposal regarding Cambodia proposed that Cambodia receive some Cambodian refugees from Australia. We talk a bit on the issue just now. In the past there have been Cambodians going out as refugees to different countries. Now perhaps it is time for Cambodia to receive refugees back to Cambodia. Samdech Dacho Prime Minister Hun Sen informed Her Excellency Honorable Minister of Australia that Cambodia will consider very carefully regarding the request of Australia.

As honorable Minister of Australia has just raised since 1994 Australia provided a lot of assistance to Cambodia in the area of demining. Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen as well as I myself requested that Australia continue to support the ASEAN regional Demining Centre which is in Cambodia and Her Excellency Australian Minister Julie Bishop agreed to the proposed request. Thank you so much.

Australian Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop: Your Excellency thank you for reminding me of those issues. We did acknowledge the Cambodian role as part of the Bali process. We discussed the cooperation that has existed in the area of transnational crime, people smuggling, human trafficking, and drug trafficking. There has been a significant level of cooperation between our law enforcement agencies and most definitely some operations that have been of some considerable success and so Australia and Cambodia will continue to work through the Bali process to tackle some of these regional challenges. In relation to electoral reform process and the demining centre these matters have been raised with me and of course Australia stands ready to consider how we can assist Cambodia in its continuing path to development. Thank you Your Excellency.

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