Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday likened Cambodia and South Korea to two parents united through the wedlock of their children due to the large number of Cambodian women now married to South Korean men, a unique relationship he said made the two nations “countries-in-law.”
The sentiments were delivered at the ribbon-cutting event for a new South Korean-funded eye clinic at Preah Ang Duong Hospital in Phnom Penh named the Cambodia-Korea Friendship Eye Center in recognition of the $5.5 million South Korea provided to build it.
“We don’t forget how our two countries are ‘countries-in-law,’” Mr. Hun Sen said to a crowd of more than 500 medical staff and dignitaries, including the visiting speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly, Chung Ui-hwa.
The four-story, 75-room facility—built in just over a year, with construction ending in December—is the latest in a long line of development projects in Cambodia by the East Asian country in a year of renewed pledges to increase bilateral cooperation.
But the one inter-country relationship Mr. Hun Sen was most interested in talking about on Wednesday was marriage. He estimated that some 10,000 Cambodian women are now married to South Korean men, many of whom had marriages arranged through agencies.
“It’s about 10,000 people,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that he did not understand the phenomenon. “[I do] not know why Korean men like to marry Cambodian women.”
The practice of South Korean men marrying Cambodian women, mostly from poor backgrounds, has not always been painted in a positive light. In 2010, Cambodia temporarily banned the practice amid evidence that traffickers were exploiting the system and endangering women. And last year, a 27-year-old Cambodian bride was killed in a car crash in South Korea that was set up by her South Korean husband in order to cash in on life insurance policies he had taken out in her name.
As the new clinic specializes in treating eye conditions, Mr. Hun Sen also reflected on the injury he sustained 40 years ago, when he lost one of his eyes as a young Khmer Rouge soldier, and the rudimentary care he was given at the time.
“They put a lamp and tied [my] hands, and [gave me] an injection, then gouged the eye,” he said, explaining that his original glass eye was too big for the socket and caused pain because it was a “European eye” rather than the smaller “Japanese eye” that he uses now.
Mr. Chung, South Korea’s National Assembly speaker, said that the eye hospital was a reflection of Cambodia’s progress as well as the growing bond between the two countries.
“Ang Doung hospital will brighten the futures of both countries by making the eyes and hearts of both [our] people more bright and more healthy,” he said.