Japan s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) waves to the media before departing on a government aircraft to visit India and Cambodia, in Tokyo s Haneda international airport on March 19, 2022. AFP
Kishida and Hun Sen were discussing cooperation covering trade and investment, education, infrastructure, defense and security, and the post-pandemic recovery, Cambodian officials said.
After China, Japan is Cambodia's largest donor and has funded the construction of bridges across the Mekong River, main roads linking Phnom Penh with provinces, the country's principal Sihanoukville port as well as upgrading clean water and sewage systems in the capital.
But Japan and the U.S. also share concerns over China's growing military assertiveness in the region. In Cambodia, Washington has been recently focused on China's construction of new facilities at Ream Naval Base and the potential for its military to have future basing rights there.
Ream faces the Gulf of Thailand that lies adjacent to the South China Sea, where China has been engulfed in territorial disputes with its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors. Cambodia generally supports Beijing's geopolitical positions, and in return, Beijing's backing for Hun Sen allows Cambodia to disregard Western concerns about its poor record in human and political rights.
Kishida's visit came three days after the departure of two Japanese naval ships from Ream Naval Base, where the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted demining training with Cambodian counterparts.
Japan has poured several million dollars for mine clearing operations in Cambodia in the aftermath of the 1975-1979 genocide that left an estimated 1.7 million people dead and the subsequent civil war. Japan also provided money to the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal. In recent months, Japan has donated 1.3 millions doses of coronavirus vaccines to Cambodia.
Upon arrival, Kishida and his delegation laid a wreath at the Independence Monument and paid tribute at the Royal Memorial Statue to King Norodom Sihanouk. Kishida also was due to visit memorials to Japanese officials who died while serving with the U.N. mission in Cambodia in early 1990s.
Kishida said his talks with Hun Sen will also include the situation in military-ruled Myanmar and the war in Ukraine.
Cambodia is the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Hun Sen is leading the group's efforts to ease the Myanmar crisis, which some U.N. experts have characterized as civil war.