In the course of attending the commemorative ASEAN-ROK Summit in Busan, Samdech Techo Hun Sen took the time in his busy schedule to meet with Cambodian workers, from which CNV extracted and translated some of those comments.

Reasons Behind Accepting Cambodian Laborers to South Korea 

I would like to comment on why the government of South Korea accept the presence of our labourers in their country, especially in Busan. Is it because of the rivalry or the alliance between Cambodia and South Korea? On this issue, I would like to recall the truths on history of relationship between our two nations. As we all know, Korea was divided into two parts: North Korea and South Korea. There were times Cambodia worked with both of them, or worked only with the North side, and sometimes we work only with the South side. On the other hand, we have compromised according to our framework in foreign affair policy, and brought along a signing of diplomatic relations in 1996.

In 1996, it was my first official visit to South Korea during the former president’s, Kim Young-sam mandate. At first, our relations were only at consul level. A year later, we extended to the embassy level and we have exchanged many visits between leaders of the two countries. I came to South Korea many times after that. In my every official visits, we always discuss on various issues including economic, trade, investment and development of our two nations. As I remember, in 1996, I once mentioned a possibility of a direct flight from South Korea to Cambodia to President Kim Young-sam. He then responded that having direct flight depends on how well the economic relations between our two countries are. He was right and South Korea was the first country to have many flights to Cambodia. These were achieved from friendship not from enmity.

I am very proud as a founder of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and South Korea. I always tell South Korean leaders about how joyful I am seeing the progress in our ties. I also would be the one to blame if it were to fail. As we probably knew, there is a conflict between the two Koreas; however, in ASEAN frameworks, we work with both of them. This should clearly show the support to their reunion. Even though there are two Koreas, there is still one Korean peninsula, (people) speak one language and share similar tradition. During the 10th ASEM Summit in Milan and the 25th ASEAN Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, current President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, mentioned in her speech the fall of Berlin wall, but there is yet a reunion of the two Koreas.

Cambodia-ROK Relations

As for Cambodia, we endorse peace and not nuclear war in the Korean peninsula. We have brought our relation with the Republic of Korea to a level never reached before. We have now enjoyed some 30,000 Korean tourists to our country. Owing to growing number of tourists from Vietnam and China, the number of Korean tourists to Cambodia has stepped to the third rank from the top one in Cambodia. As for tourists coming to Cambodia from China, just 0.1 % of the Chinese population visiting us, we would have 1.3 million visitors already as China has some 1.3 billion population.

Some raised a question if there should be a fear of Chinese threat. My answer is which of the two do we expect to receive from China – tourists or refugees? Some has dreamed of a poor China. How could that happen when the Chinese also have their hands and mind? Their country is big and they have cooperation with people in Southeast Asia or ASEAN. How could anyone prevent China from making progress? China has now become the world number one economy already. We also do not want poor South or North Korea as their advanced economy would also give us chance for trade. Trade between Cambodia and ROK stood at over 700 million USD in 2013. We have nurtured our intention to upgrade bilateral trade figure to one billion USD by 2017. We still have some untapped potential.

The richer ROK gets, the more tourists from South Korea travel to Cambodia and more labour they would need. As of present, there are over 30,000 Cambodians working in ROK but country like Vietnam they have more, 130,000. Some people have blamed the (Cambodian) Ambassador (to ROK) for making his presence everywhere. That is his job. I would ask our people, which of the following Ambassador you would want – the one who would not even open the Embassy’s door for you or the one who are with you. Ambassador is here to oversee the situation, to provide protection and to foster relation. S/he would be the one who know full well the status of our citizen working here. That would be more like it. There is no reason for hesitation.

Right after arriving to ROK, facebook has it that ‘the (Cambodian) Ambassador is hard headed. He would be there even no one invited him.’ Please go on doing what you have done so far, HE Ambassador. You sit in a Cambodian national flag carrying vehicle. There is nothing to be confused about. Only places where they are forbidden by the ROK authority, otherwise where there are Cambodians staying and working in Korea, the Ambassador has every right to travel to in a sovereign flag carrying vehicle.

Training of Cambodian Human Resource, Kim Chi from Friendship, Not Animosity

The Cambodian-ROK relation has grown this rapid and I am satisfied of it. We must go on bolstering the relation as tomorrow I will start my official visit to ROK. I will conduct more negotiations with the President of ROK. Among other topics, I will propose to the President to take more Cambodian workers to ROK. Cambodia would want our people to earn better income but also to acquire skills, which can be used for the country’s developments. As you can see this is a serious topic that I have the need to bring it up. If I may recall, what the two countries have achieved so far has been the product of my efforts made with various Presidents of ROK – HE Kim Young-sam, HE Kim Dae-jung, HE Roh Moo-Hyun, HE Lee Myung-bak and the current President Park Geun-Hye.

With every one of them, Hun Sen has raised every time this topic of allowing Cambodian workers to work in ROK and providing assistance for them. I also never forget to ask them to consider it as providing those Cambodians a proper training. For tomorrow I will propose two things. Firstly, I will be asking the ROK to think of providing Cambodia a University that provides training in relation to New Village Movement, Rural Development and other skills. Secondly, we also see the need for a training centre that provide technical and production training, offering Korean language training also included.

This has clarified why we need to expand our relation with ROK. The two sides understand that we still have untapped potential. More investors from Korea also like to come to Cambodia. Now, we also are bringing along the Cambodian investors to Korea. It is going to be a mutual development. Take for instance Cambodia now is familiar with the Korean Kim Chi and there are lots of it. I just wish to stress here that Kim Chi is there not because of animosity but by friendship. That is the truth. I would take this opportune moment to express my sincere appreciation and thanks to the Government of the Republic of Korea who, on the one side, provides assistance, investment and mobilizes tourists to visit Cambodia, as well as offers loans for Cambodia’s development but also on the other side allow our workers to find jobs here.

Extension of Passports’ Validity

I have discussed with Deputy Prime Minister HE Hor Namhong and the Cambodian Ambassador HE Sut Dina over the need for extending passports’ validity for those who need to overstay for the job. I have also decided to provide one more official from the Ministry of Labour to assist with the job. I have seen when arriving here that HE Ambassador had had to sign on the passports outside this meeting room. I am urging you to take care of passports because they are needed for you to go from one place to another. Aside from loss, we also have the need for extending its validity. This has come to the duty of the Ambassador and officials in the Embassy.

Formerly, it was required that anyone with the need to extend passports’ validity had had to go all the way to Seoul in person. Having observed the good working postal service, now the person can either send through someone else or by post. I would advise officials of the Embassy, no matter through which means the passports have come to you, that they must find the way to accomplish their demands without having them to travel long distance or spend more money for that. I urge further study which would be a better way for all this to be carried out effectively. If working through the post office is reliable, maybe one should try without having to come in person.

No Illegal Practice

I am urging our Ambassador, officials in the Embassy as well as officials representing the Ministry of Labour to pay high attention to our worker’s situation – legal or illegal ones. I make it clear that I do not encourage our workers to come illegally to work in ROK, though. In reality, there are those who came legally and illegally. According to estimated figures, there are about 4500 workers who are here illegally. They would face the issue of insurance and rights protection as well as pension issue. It is normal that working illegally in a country, you would have to accept what you are offered. They could not provide you long-term and regular contracts. You would also have to avoid (being discovered by) the Korean officials. The Embassy would also have limited power to help you.

What I am trying to get to is, though in reality we have legal and illegal workers here in ROK, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Minister of Labour and Ambassador do not wish to see you are illegal workers. As far as we know there are more in the case of other countries but we wish that we do not follow their footstep. In fact we in the country have to think on many things for you to be able to stay and work here. If I were to give you some money to cover your trip here, some people would have said that Hun Sen bribed you to come to listen to him. Then we all thought of a scarf, which is identical and traditional too. Let us wear around the neck altogether.

A Memorable Meeting

I hope that our meeting today is memorable to every one of us here. I think among all of you some may have listened to my speeches here and there. While you were in the country you could have at least listened to or watched me making speeches. We meet here today is not in Cambodia. We meet in Korea. We can meet everywhere. Human beings can meet each other. Only mountains cannot do so. There might be other meeting in Seoul as it will fall on Sunday. That you are here not working today, would they not pay you? (Workers replied, yes they don’t). That is work ethics in every country. Coming to meet Prime Minister, you are not being paid for your absence from work. In Cambodia, they went on strike, joined demonstration, and they demanded to be paid.

Every one of you recognizes that ROK is a sovereign country with rule of law. Asking for salary that they have been working for, I suggested them to refer to the Constitutional Council as it is not my right to do so. How could one ask for salary while not working or participating in meeting? Maybe we should learn from other countries. They have made their country this advanced, but you had had to ask for leave otherwise you are going to get sacked. In Cambodia, when workers get sacked for not working, they launched demonstration. They are able to make their country this advanced and rich is because they subscribe to strict discipline. I think I should not bother you too long as while you are here, you misses your pay already.

Water Forum from 12-17 April, Three Doctor Honoris Causas

This meeting could also be one that helps with your nostalgia but we also have resolved some issues as well. We have come up with this solution that the Royal Government and concerned agencies, embassy especially, have to provide you with everything legally necessary, take for instance the facilitation of the passports’ validity extension process. As we are now close to end of the year 2014, I hope that I will be able to join you for the Khmer New Year in ROK next year. I will be in ROK for Water Forum at the invitation of President Park Geun-Hye from April 12 through to 17, 2015. So we may have this kind of meeting again.

I also have had to come here to receive doctor honoris causa from three Universities. I cannot accept them now as I do not have much time. Maybe we should aim to meet in a province close to Seoul. I think by that time I might have sufficient time to accept their offers. No matter what, it should be marked that I will have my Khmer New Year in South Korea. It is not I do not like to get out of the country. It is coincidental to other business to attend to. The Water Forum is an international forum and very important that President of ROK kindly invited us. On another front, as I am out of the country, my bodyguards are also having good time with their families./.