Prime Minister Hun Sen was scheduled to meet with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Sunday, a day after Japan and the member states of Asean agreed to ensure “freedom of overflight” in the region.
The agreement will likely be taken as an affront by China, which recently imposed its own unilateral air defense zone over disputed waters between itself and Japan.
While Japan is Cambodia’s largest development aid donor, China is the country’s largest investor and is considered to have closer ties with Cambodia than with any other Asean member.
According to state-run news agency AKP, Cambodia and Japan were to sign a memorandum to enhance defense cooperation and exchange at Sunday’s bilateral meeting between the two prime ministers, along with unspecified economic deals.
Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh said Sunday that the memorandum would see Japan provide Cambodia’s military with training, but he could not elaborate because he had not seen the deal.
Mr. Hun Sen on Saturday met with Mitsuo Hidaka, president and CEO of Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., “stressing that he would like to see the first drop of oil soon” from Mitsui’s joint concession with Chevron off the Cambodian coast, AKP reported. Negotiations between Chevron and the Cambodian government on the terms of extraction have been stalled for several years.
Mr. Hun Sen’s meeting with Mitsui took place on the sidelines of Saturday’s Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit marking 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two, where they agreed to the regional “freedom of overflight.”
Japan and Asean also issued a joint statement after the summit underscoring “the importance of maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the region and promoting maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation…exercise of self-restraint, and resolution of disputes by peaceful means.”
Mr. Abe took the occasion to announce a $19.4 billion aid package for Asean to be spent over the next five years on infrastructure projects and closing the regional development gap.
The summit and Mr. Hun Sen’s trip to Tokyo follow Mr. Abe’s visit to Cambodia and Laos last month, seen as part of Japan’s efforts to shore up regional support at a time of Tokyo’s deteriorating relations with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
On Sunday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong will visit China next month to co-chair the first meeting of a new intergovernmental coordinating committee between the two nations. The committee will “carry out the action plan on the China-Cambodia comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation,” according to Xinhua.
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