PM Hits the Ground Running in Europe Trip

Ambassador Jacques Pellet speaks in a press conference held at the French Embassy on Jan. 15. Photo: Francois Camps

PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Manet today starts a week-long visit to Western Europe packed with business meetings in France, the Davos Summit in Switzerland and an official visit to French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Paris visit on Jan. 18 and 19 aims to strengthen the France-Cambodia relationship and will be his third international trip since he was appointed prime minister in August, after official trips to China and Vietnam in 2023.

“Hun Manet’s coming is the third visit of Cambodian high-ranking officials to France in the last 13 months, following the visits of former prime minister Hun Sen in December 2022, and of King Norodom Sihamoni in November,” French Ambassador Jacques Pellet said in a press conference held at the French Embassy on Jan. 15.

“These high points have rekindled the political relationship between the two countries. There has been a lack of high-level meetings for a number of years.”

Hun Manet left for France on Jan. 13 with a tight schedule. On Jan. 15, he is set to attend a French-Cambodian business seminar at the Mouvement des Enterprises de France (MEDEF), the country’s largest employer federation with more than 750,000 member firms. 

He will try to attract more French direct investments to Cambodia through meetings with French conglomerates, including Vinci, Accor Hotels, Total Energies and Electricite de France.

“Let’s be clear, there are not enough French private investments in Cambodia,” Ambassador Pellet said. 

“Even though the French Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia has close to 200 members, with companies of all sizes and in all sectors, the overall level of investments is not up to scratch.”

In 2022, French foreign direct investment (FDI) in Cambodia reached around $26.3 million, representing only 0.5 percent of the $4.7 billion invested in the country in the form of FDI that year, far behind China, South Korea and ASEAN member states.

Hun Manet will be in Davos on Jan. 16 and 17, before his official visit to France, at the invitation of Macron.

According to his preliminary schedule, the Prime Minister will have a working lunch at the Elysee Palace on Jan. 18 before meeting the presidents of the French National Assembly and Senate in the afternoon. 

On Jan. 19, he had been set to meet with the French prime minister but it is unclear if this will happen after a cabinet reshuffle last week.

Cambodia as an entry point for France’s Indo Pacific strategy

Hun Manet’s trip to France will be an opportunity to announce several cooperation agreements. 

The French Development Agency is set to unveil another $220 million program for 2024, with new funding allocated to sanitation and waste treatment. This follows a record year in 2023 when about $236 million was granted.

A feasibility study will also be financed by France to renovate Phnom Penh’s National Museum building and extend it to the compound formerly used by the University of Fine Arts – which is being relocated to the Chrouy Changvar Peninsula.

“From both sides, there is a will to better work together on global issues, whether it is the fight against climate change, the protection of biodiversity or global health issues,” Ambassador Pellet said.

“But all subjects will be covered. Governance and human rights will not be sidelined,” he said.

While the world’s global order has shifted to the Pacific, with trade tensions between the US and China being reinforced by the thorny question of Taiwan's sovereignty, France sees Cambodia as an entry point for its Indo-Pacific policy in ASEAN.

Despite being the former colonizer, France has remained a long-time development partner in Cambodia, and the current government’s Francophilia – with over 30 percent of the ministers speaking French – gives it an additional card to play.

“For a long time, France’s diplomacy has been focusing mostly on China, setting aside other partners in the region. But if we want to strengthen our presence in the Indo-Pacific region, we must elevate our talks to a strategic level with other countries, including Cambodia,” Ambassador Pellet added.

The last time a French president visited Cambodia was in 1993, when Francois Mitterrand spent 24 hours in the country. The gate for another presidential visit has opened after Cambodia applied to host the 2026 Francophonie Summit.

In the meantime, the high-ranking France-Cambodia relationship will go on. At the invitation of Yael Braun-Pivet, the president of the French National Assembly, Khuon Sudary, the president of Cambodia’s lower chamber, will pay a visit to France in March.


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