King Norodom Sihanouk recently told China Central Television that rebuilding the agricultural sector to pre-war levels is Cambodia’s biggest challenge.
“The major socio-economic problem in Cambodia always has been and always will be the issue of rice, of food self-sufficiency and the protection of ordinary people,” the King said.
According to a transcript of answers King Sihanouk gave the state-run CCTV shortly after his arrival in Beijing in July, the monarch stressed that, in the 1950s and 1960s, the government would provide people determined to farm with land, plows and oxen, tools and even small houses.
But the King would not comment on the “politically delicate” question of whether “colossal amounts of financial and material aid” have helped solve the chronic food, security and infrastructure problems that have plagued Cambodia since three decades of fighting began in 1970.
Even today, more than half of the country’s budget comes from international aid, and there is no indication that this trend is likely to change. Donors this year pledged $635 million in aid for the next year—nearly $100 million more than last year—despite criticisms of the slow pace of reform in several key areas, including land reform.
King Sihanouk told CCTV that he supported the distribution of land to the poorest rather than to the most rich and powerful Cambodians, touching on the issue of land-grabbing, which some foreign observers claim could be a flashpoint in the future.
He also told interviewers that he endorses requirements imposed by donor countries, organizations and NGOs in the areas of demobilization, the fight against corruption and deforestation, and fully supports Prime Minister Hun Sen in his efforts to repair and build roads, schools and hospitals, factories and hotels.