Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on Tuesday said Cambodia’s industrial sector cannot compete in a global market and told Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian leaders they ought to focus on tourism instead.
Goh told Hun Sen and his cabinet ministers that Cambodia’s industry cannot match the “quality or price” of other countries’ industry, according to Cambodian government spokesman Penn Thol.
Goh did not speak to reporters after the meeting.
Although the Singaporean premier said that Cambodia has made great progress in its development over the last several years, tourism is still its best bet for revival, according to Penn Thol.
“No one can make a second Angkor Wat,” Penn Thol quoted Goh as saying.
The Singaporean leader further pledged his city-state’s support for Cambodia’s tourism industry, promising to send experts to develop a “master plan” on tourism, Penn Thol said. The spokesman said Goh did not provide specifics on the master plan.
One of the concerns expressed during the meeting was not only preserving Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province, but expanding its capacity as more and more tourists flock to the site, Penn Thol said.
“When there’s millions of people at Angkor Wat, what are you going to do? Build a wooden staircase?” Goh said, according to Penn Thol.
Hun Sen asked his counterpart for low-interest loans to help Cambodia expand Angkor Wat’s capacity, Penn Thol said.
Goh spoke with Cambodia’s leader during a nearly three-hour meeting Tuesday at the Council of Ministers. Earlier in the day, the Singaporean premier arrived at Pochentong Airport from a visit to Angkor Wat and told reporters that he would discuss an aid package with Hun Sen.
“We’re going to discuss ways to foster our relationship,” Goh said.
When asked how much money his government was willing to use to help Cambodia, Goh said only, “We’ll discuss it.”
Before Goh arrived at the airport, Singapore’s Ambassador Verghese Mathews said that while his country has not given Cambodia direct aid, Singapore has and will continue to help Cambodia “develop its human resources potential” through training programs. Singapore has already trained several Cambodian officials and dozens of Cambodians, Mathews said.
During the meeting, Hun Sen asked Goh for continuing help with English-language programs for Cambodia, Penn Thol said.
Hun Sen also asked for the continuation of a program that sends Cambodian authorities to Singapore for training. More than a dozen officials have already studied in the city-state, Penn Thol said.
Speaking at the airport earlier Tuesday, Hun Sen said that the visit was an important one for Cambodia’s international relations.
“This visit is good to strengthen our relationship,” the premier said before ducking into his Mercedes-Benz.
Tuesday marked the first time the two government leaders have met since June 2000, when Hun Sen flew to Singapore. Goh, who last visited Cambodia in 1996, also dined with King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath Tuesday.
Goh is scheduled to meet with other government officials today, and then play a round of golf with Hun Sen before meeting with members of the local Singaporean community. Goh leaves Cambodia on Thursday.