Coup no obstacle to Hun Sen trade visit

Coup no obstacle to Hun Sen trade visit

analysis: Govt to sign four pacts with Cambodia as new Sa Kaeo checkpoint opens to public, write Chananthorn Kamjan and Achara Ashayagachat

The high-ranking Cambodian team will be headed by strongman Hun Sen, and will include many ministers, as well as his won and heir apparent. (File photo)
The high-ranking Cambodian team will be headed by strongman Hun Sen, and will include many ministers, as well as his won and heir apparent. (File photo)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to Thailand this week reaffirms brightening relations between the two countries after the Cambodian premier sent a delegation to extend his goodwill to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in July last year.

The Cambodian delegation, led by Defence Minister Tea Banh, included Hun Sen's eldest son, Lt Gen Hun Manet. It will be in Thailand Friday and Saturday.

It is not the first time since the coup that Hun Sen has journeyed to Thailand, as he made an appearance at the 5th Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) conference held in Thailand last year.

But this time is especially meaningful as the visit comes during the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries, and mutual issues will be on the table, according to the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Key ministers accompanying Hun Sen are Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Minister of Council of Ministers Sok An and Defence Minister Tea Banh. All three are also deputy prime ministers.

The two-day visit, scheduled on Friday and Saturday, will allow the delegation to jointly chair the 2nd Joint Cabinet Retreat (JCR) with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

A number of issues will be discussed, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee. The first cabinet retreat was held in 2003 during the government of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

On the agenda for the meeting are border development, agricultural products, the promotion of trade and investment, expansion of connectivity and other regional issues. They are in addition to a business forum, in which Hun Sen will bring Cambodian business leaders to meet their Thai counterparts. An agreement on cooperation between the Thai-Cambodian business councils will also be signed.

Akkaraphong Khamkhun, a professor of foreign affairs at Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat  University, said the visit by Hun Sen and his cabinet members is not unexpected.

"It is business as usual and the Cambodian side may have concluded Thailand will not change government in the near future," he said, adding the recent trip to Cambodia of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon might have paved the way for some agreements, including on energy.

Gen Prawit in October led the delegation, which included Energy Minister Gen Anantaporn Kanjanarat, to Cambodia.

But Gen Prawit has insisted no agreement was made on the fate of energy resources in the Gulf of Thailand. When asked to compare Cambodian relations under the current government with those under ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Mr Akkaraphong said Cambodia's administration was personally close to the administration led by Ms Yingluck's government, but the coup had not affected diplomatic relations.

The government disclosed Monday that four pacts will be signed during the Cambodian premier's visit.

These include the Joint Declaration of the 2nd JCR and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Development of the Cross Border Control Facilities, such as the border bridge and access roads at Ban Nong Ian in Aranyaprathet District of Sa Kaeo and Stung Bot in Banteay Meanchey Province in Cambodia.

Another MoU will be signed on Labour Cooperation, which will promote skills development for labour, as well as an agreement on the Employment of Workers, which aims to prevent illegal employment and human trafficking.

The Cambodian ambassador to Thailand, Eat Sophea, told the Bangkok Post Monday this is the first official visit after the GMS summit.

"The four agreements to be signed during the prime minister's visit will make better connectivity between the two countries as another checkpoint in Sa Kaeo will be open, mostly for tourists and the public," said Eat Sophea. The JCR is convened by more than 20 ministers and 20 senior officials in Hun Sen's delegation.

"Details on special economic zones near the new border checkpoint and the operational date of the new checkpoint in 2018 will be discussed," she said.

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