In a joint communique released after high-level talks between Cambodia and Vietnam in Siem Reap province last week, the two countries announced a series of agreements on cooperation and development along their mutual borders.
The two countries will consider the possibility of visa exemptions for people holding ordinary passports, and Vietnam will continue to let Cambodians living along the border visit Vietnamese provincial hospitals for treatment, the communique states.
Vietnam also agreed to continue building schools and vocational training centers inside Cambodia, and to provide Cambodia with technical assistance in irrigation, water management, and “high-yielding seeds and breeds.”
Hanoi and Phnom Penh also agreed to support trade cooperation and the flow of goods across the border through trade exhibitions and markets set up at border checkpoints.
They also reaffirmed neither would let hostile forces “use the territory of border provinces of one country as a base to undermine the security and stability of the other country,” and agreed to strengthen immigration control to prevent illegal border crossing and terrorism.
The communique’s significance appears to center on border trade rather than border demarcation, as some had predicted it would, one foreign diplomat said Monday.
“There was nothing in the agreement to suggest any progress made in terms of settling the border demarcation issue. This is perhaps to be expected given that there are domestic sensitivities on each side over the matter,” he said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, special secretary to retired King Norodom Sihanouk, declined immediate comment, while government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and Vietnamese Embassy political counselor Ly Quang Bich could not be contacted.
Sovann Den, secretary-general of the Student Movement for Democracy, alleged that the meeting was held in Siem Reap to avoid scrutiny from independent media and border activists.
“If Cambodia did not lose its interests, they would not have kept [the meeting] secret,” he said.
Ung Bun-Ang, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, said his party will release a statement condemning the secrecy of the talks, adding that the opposition reserves the right to annul any treaty that compromises Cambodia’s interests when it takes power.
Chea Vannath of the Center for Social Development said the agreement likely presents economic opportunity for Cambodia.
“It’s about time for us to have a good relationship with our neighbors and take advantage of that relationship to strengthen ourselves instead of self-pitying,” she said.