Phnom Penh (FN), Jun. 10 – Prime Minister Hun Manet of Cambodia visited South Korea in May 2024 and had signed the strategic partnership with South Korea as the evidence to strong commitment for working together between the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Republic of Korea. If compare between China and Japan, South Korea is the latest country that has signed the strategic partnership with Cambodia which both countries have mainly focused on security and economy.

What is the next step that both countries should do for each other after the Signing of the Strategic Partnership?

One crucial point that needs to be discussed is that, following the country's first general election in 1993, South Korea was the first nation to invest in Cambodia before any other nation. However, following the country's 1997 crisis, some Korean investors lost faith in Cambodia and chose to relocate their companies to neighboring countries, where they have remained until today.

Some Korean investors who continued to make investments in Cambodia encountered difficulties, such as a lack of laws protecting foreign investors and issues with the country's tax system, among other things. The Cambodian government is making great efforts to entice foreign investors to invest in Cambodia, but it lacks the courage to heed their advice and suggestions.

The Cambodian government should resolve any problems that arise for international investors who have already made investments in Cambodia in addition to trying to get new foreign investors to make investments there. Since investments are made primarily for financial gain, foreign investors always research a country before making a financial commitment. If they travel to Cambodia with the intention of making an investment but hear negative stories about the country, they will never visit until the remaining problems have been resolved.

Strong regulations to safeguard their companies, a secure business climate, financial prospects, national stability and peace, and a market for their goods are what Korean and other foreign investors seek out. While the government works hard to entice foreign investors to invest in Cambodia, the country should first attempt to improve those areas that need improvement.

Regarding the Strategic Partnership that the government of Cambodia has signed with South Korea, this is another positive step for the country as South Korea has given Cambodian workers and students many job opportunities as well as opportunities to further develop the nation domestically. There are many opportunities from South Korea for Cambodia, however if Cambodia does not take any appropriate action, such opportunities will not come to Cambodia on their own.

Given that Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are home to several Korean investors, one of the biggest lessons the Cambodian government can learn from Vietnam is how to draw in Korean capital.

The South Korean government must trust Cambodia above all else, even though there are numerous things the Cambodian government may do to draw in Korean businessmen and officials. Cambodia is not a client state of China; rather, it is an independent nation with cordial ties to every other nation in the globe. The Korean government ought to have faith in Cambodia and be willing to have open and honest discussions with the country, as one of the obstacles to fostering goodwill between the two countries has been South Korea's perception of Cambodia as being too close to China. South Korea and North Korea have a historical issue that requires help from other ASEAN nations, and Cambodia is one country among other nations in ASEAN association that has been working with South Korea bilaterally and internationally.

Cambodia is always willing to cooperate with South Korea, led by both the current prime minister, Hun Manet, and the former prime minister, Hun Sen. Because North Korea regularly conducts unlawful nuclear weapon tests, ASEAN was able to strongly denounce the country in 2022 while Cambodia was the chair of the ASEAN. Following reports of threats against South Korean diplomats in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Laos, and Russia, the South Korean government requested that Cambodia offer complete safety for its diplomats. This indicates that prior to their formal agreement being reached, South Korea and Cambodia had been cooperating on security measures.

In order to sustain and foster mutual trust, both sides should create a positive environment for verbal communication when difficulties arise for any of them. Sometimes persuasion through communication and negotiation is easy, but maintaining trust once issues arise is a difficulty that the Cambodian government must recognize and address with effectiveness.

Seun Sam is a policy analyst of the Royal Academy of Cambodia. All views in this article are his own.