It is a great pleasure indeed that I have a wonderful chance to come meet professors and students of the Royal Phnom Penh University (RPPU) to celebrate two important events (1) graduation and diploma presentation ceremony for scholarship and fee-paying students and (2) launching of the RUPP’s five years strategic plan for 2014 through to 2018.

Progress Made by RUPP & Job Seeking Opportunity

Acting Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, HE Pit Cham Nan, made a report already about progress made by the RUPP. I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere appreciation and praise for every effort made by the RUPP’s leadership as well as those at the Ministry level to create a favorable condition for successive development in the history of this oldest University in Cambodia. The University went through destruction under the regime of Pol Pot. We have made great efforts to restore it and to make it a leading University not only for human resource development in general but importantly in teachers training as well.

Noted these developments, RUPP has put out today its 2014-18 strategic plan, the first among Cambodian tertiary education institutions, aimed at setting direction and momentum for reform relating to tertiary education and  the University itself. Taking this opportune moment, I am declaring the official launching and implementation of the strategic plan of the Royal Phnom Penh University.

As we observe the RPPU’s advancement, today I offer my congratulation to all graduates for the efforts they made so far in their study until they get official degrees. According to the report I have here, I am impressed that all 3,038 graduates have had their jobs according to the following classification. The first group, 1,347 or 44.35%, is working in private institution; 803 graduates or 26.45% are becoming professors or staff of education institutions; 215 graduates or 7.1% work in various organizations; and 198 or 6.55% are either in pursuit of one or continuing their study.

Reform in Tertiary Education Framework

In his report, HE Pit Cham Nan mentioned of developments in relation to both RPPU and education sector as a whole. Our aim and on-going action here is to address the issue of reform within the framework of tertiary education. Days ago, HE Hang Chuon Naron issued a statement to put on hold the establishment of more universities. Though I may not have time to be elaborate, I wish to stress to all of you that this is in fact the move to ascertain quality of the up to more than 100 existing universities – both state and private.

I have noticed the five objectives of the work outlined in this strategic plan – (1) improve and upgrade living standard and capacity of professors, officials and staff (2) upgrade quality education among students (3) improve teaching and learning capability (4) widen and improve research and (5) augment and widen practical community action to bridge student’s understanding between theory and practice. Cambodia is a small country but surprisingly it has up to more than 100 universities. While pursing the aim of improving quality, we are leaving option open for well-known universities abroad that are considering their education business in Cambodia.

However, as I said on various educational occasions, it is now important to focus on quality education and not on a great number of facilities in the area. Still, I am of the opinion that to create university and put into function is a hard work but to guarantee their sustainability is harder.

Job Market Oriented Curriculum & Short-Term Skills Training

I am calling on all universities – state or private, to focus on strengthening quality education and more importantly provide a more relevant curriculum of education to respond to the need for job market and society that is growing in a rapid manner and demanding more lacking technicians and specialists. We have now noted the fact that some graduates, after finishing their study, could not find a job. Among other factors, I would advise not to forget the role of job market as it bears subjective influence over objective factors. Saying that I mean if the market needs engineers or architects, it would be irrelevant if we orientate our students on the path to philosophy.

Though we do not deny the fact that philosophy is also important to be in our curriculum but we need to respond to the need of the market or the actual state of demand out there. Take for instance, as construction is mushrooming everywhere and Cambodia needs people with engineering and architectural expertise and knowledge. If we give wrong focus in our education, graduates would have less chance of finding jobs. I am calling for a double-checking on this trend in effort to further reform and expand curriculum for every tertiary education.

I found this short-term skills training provided by the Asia-Europe University and Human Resource Development University very relevant to the market demand. I think it would do a lot of help to our students to find their job at some stage in life if every university not only provide formal curriculum but also short to medium-term trainings, like for three or six months, in skills that they would need when they are out there in workplace. Aside from the Asia-Europe University and The Human Resource Development University, as far as I know, the Chea Sim-Prey Veng University will carry this need in its curriculum too.

I think each education and training institution should work closely with the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, which has under its administration state skill training center. The private sector should also take part in this work.

Wide Gap of Jobs and Expertise

There lies a huge gap between job availability and expertise trained in Cambodia. In construction, we have architects and engineers working with laborers in absence of a middle-level expertise staff. The same goes for medicine, we have surgeons but they all do not work in one operation room together at one time. They need one or two surgeons with certain number of assistants like mid-level physicians and nurses. This is one recommendation for every tertiary education institution to take into consideration as they keep on going on this path.

It is in fact an approach to resolve the need through short-term response. This is true among those who go on self-employment path. They may find themselves in need of certain skills and they do not have a lengthy period to go all the way to achieve that skill. They just need them quick and clean to get thing moving in their business. This should be what I want to say about quality education in the tertiary institutions of Cambodia.

District, Provincial/Municipal Elections – A Success

I wish to reiterate my appreciation for the efforts made by every student with the help of every family to have come this far and earmarked this achievement. We all will continue to proceed as normal where professors, leaders and ministries will continue to function daily in a normal manner. I would speak about how things evolve in Bangkok when it turned out there is this need to close down school for a while. In Cambodia, we do not need to do that. We only need to close down flooding since it would cause damages to our country. Otherwise, it is business as usual.

I would like to take this chance to express my sincere appreciation for the efforts made by all concerned for the smooth 15-day campaign and successful district and provincial/municipal elections on May 18. In days ahead, the National Elections Committee will announce official results of the elections, after which the elected district and provincial/municipal councilors will start work officially. I hope that councilors of the new term from the non-universal election will continue to work with municipal, provinces and districts governors in providing services to our people. I am delivering from here my sincere appreciation for the Cambodian armed forces, especially police and military police for taking part in keeping order during the campaigning period as well as ensuring a smooth process during the election.

I also convey my appreciation to local authorities of all levels for their active duties in this event though, as was noted, while many of the five contested parties campaigned only among electors, some extrapolated it into campaign procession with non-electors. They even cause traffic jam with the procession of theirs. Well, it is freedom. However, what has come out importantly is the electoral process, in which those who have been dissatisfied with the National Elections Committee have also accepted the existing electoral process. I am giving no political message here. It is just bizarre that such thing happens in Cambodia, not only in Thailand. All and all, I offer my congratulation and appreciation to all contested parties in the elections.

No Interference in Thai Internal Affairs

As we all noticed the latest development in a neighboring country, please allow me to take this forum to affirm clearly Cambodian position in relation to the recent political development in Thailand. Firstly, I wish to declare that Cambodia considers what happened in Thailand is Thai internal affair. Cambodia will not interfere into Thai internal affair. While the Thai army declared martial law at 3am on May 20, there was a question from inside Cambodia to me (in China) whether the act was good or bad? I responded: “it is peeling off a section at a time.” My analysis has been clear that while declaring martial law, they allowed the then Thai government to go on. Why would they declare martial law, if they did not consider a coup? I told the person who put me question that the coup was coming only that it came in steps.

The government should be the one to declare martial law and the military would abide by the order. However, in that case, that the (Thai) army declared martial law, why else the coup would not happen? It was on that thought, I told Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, HE Sar Kheng, to pay attention to the development of the Thai situation and to refrain from any move to relocate armed forces at the border. The coup would be imminent. It was only a question of when. I was in Shanghai. When the coup took place, HE Sar Kheng issued a statement to the armed forces and local authorities along the border to stay calm and nurture normal contacts while prohibiting any troop movements.

The civilian government in Thailand effectively toppled and the military government replaces it. The question is what is our behavior? As is affirmed clearly already our position is to consider that as internal affair of Thailand. However, because we share the border, we must keep normal relation with the Kingdom of Thailand, whether is civilian or military. We have no choice. As of this moment, the military government has the approval of HM the King of Thailand to justify the military government leadership. Everything should be legal at the King’s approval. Take for instance, after the parliamentary elections, in Cambodia, HM the King will issue it a royal decree to approve it. There would be anything else.

In Thailand, there would be anything more than that too. After the coup, HM the King approves the coup maker to the leadership. Nothing we can do. I hope former Prime Minister Thaksin and former Prime Minister Yingluck as well as Pheu Thai party would understand the position that Cambodia is taking. When neither Thaksin nor Yingluck is Prime Minister, whom are we going to work with? We have other choice but work with those who have secured the approval of HM the King.

Maintaining Cambodian-Thailand Relations

The thing we need to do now is to maintain relations between armies and police of the two countries along the borderline and secure business as usual between people on either side of the border. I would call on Thai authority to consider the best course of action concerning border trade between our two countries. We are aware that the fact Thai is under martial law and before the situation returns to normal, the border passes between Cambodia and Thailand closed down.

I am sure that will be provisional because the trade volume between the two countries annually has reached a size of over four billion USD, a major size of which is the Thai goods coming into Cambodia. The concern is that the border trade is on hold for too long, it is undeniable to foresee losses on the two countries’ trades, though Thai side sells more to Cambodia. It is in this understanding that we have made it clear from the beginning that we order no troop movement and maintain calm. We never move our troops whatsoever anyway.

Appeal to Cambodians in Thailand

Secondly, I am calling on Cambodian people who are working in or now entering Thailand to abide by Thai laws. As there have no TV broadcasts in Thailand for the time being, maybe it is a good idea for their families members or friends on the Cambodian side to call or send them messages advising them to respect Thai martial law for their safety concern. They should keep themselves away from affiliation with whichever political gathering but concentrate only on their jobs. The martial of Thailand this time covers the whole country and we have no knowledge as to when the military government remove it. Whatever it is I just call on Cambodians working or entering Thailand to abide by Thai laws and order.

Cambodia – No Place for Exile Government

Thirdly, it is the most important point of all. There have been comments in relation to this statement by Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer and advisor to Thaksin, regarding the possibility of having an exile government, which Cambodia could be one of the considered places for such thing. I have not heard it from Thaksin or Yingluck at all. I only learn about it from his lawyer Robert Amsterdam. My affirmation is Cambodia is no place for any country or any group, whether Thailand or any other country, to set up exile government. The Cambodian Constitution forbids that.

Information Minister, HE Khieu Kanharith, already talked on this and the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, HE Phay Siphan, already clarified this matter. However, in his comment in the Phnom Penh Post, HE Cheam Yiep, member of the National Assembly, seemed to have misleading when he said that would depend on Hun Sen’s mood. Otherwise, there would not need to clarify the issue again. I must underline that Cambodia will not allow its territory as establishment for opposition forces again any given government of other country.

In my analysis, not from my point of view as Prime Minister, I think that Robert Amsterdam should withdraw this idea as it may lead Thaksin, Yingluck and Pheu Thai party to danger. If I were Thaksin or Yingluck I would have denied it immediately. With the exile government to be established, where will it stand and operate? Cambodia refuses and Laos may surely do too. No ASEAN would do that. In Thailand, people detained by the military have been released within seven days and in one or two years, the new elections will take place. Well that is what I could say as an analyst of the situation.

As far as coups in Thailand are concerned, as soon as the country is in stability, the military government would allow elections. If Thailand in this case has two governments, consider who would work government in Bangkok and who would do with the exile government? Well, whether to establish one or not will be within their rights but as an analyst, I would urge Thaksin’s lawyer to withdraw this thought.

The ASEAN Statement on Thailand

Arriving back from the ASEAN Summit on May 11 to welcome HM the King’s return from France on May 12, I discovered in the news that Hun Sen initiated an ASEAN declaration on Thailand. Please allow me to give some backgrounds to those researchers on ASEAN that draft of the declaration was prepared by Foreign Minister of Indonesia Marty Muliana Natalegawa in the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting in Naypyidaw, while at the time I was on my visit to Belarus. The declaration at the ASEAN Foreign Minister level did not gain consensus since one of the ten member countries requested for time to consult with its leader. The said country came back with approval but the situation in Thailand moved fast they did not issue the declaration.

While waiting with President of Indonesia on May 11, there came this situation in Thailand since we also had the presence of then Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Pongthep Thepkanchana. The issue of declaration on Thai situation came and we discussed, in the presence of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, whether the declaration is still relevant. Indonesian Foreign Minister assured us that he would work with the chair country and the country that asked for time to secure senior opinion. In the meeting, HE Thein Sein invited head of governments to take the floor alphabetically. Malaysia – the next chairing member took the floor first, then followed by Brunei and Cambodia was third in line.

After my speech, not written therein, I brought up what we talked about before the meeting asking should ASEAN issue the draft declaration or not? Why else they came up with this idea that Cambodia spearheaded the declaration on Thailand. I have had to clarify things up, especially when there is this issue of establishing exile government. I have not seen correction in the newspaper column but I think it is worth ending it now./.