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SIEM REAP - The United States is scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts later this month in an effort to protect and restore Khmer culture, a move said to help the tourism sector’s rebound after being hit hard by Covid-19.
Speaking to reporters on the sideline of the Digital Economy Forum in Siem Reap, US Ambassador Patrick Murphy said there are various areas that Washington has been helping Cambodia with. Not solely trade, training and skills, for small and medium enterprises and women, but also to restore Cambodia's cultural heritage.
“We have a very strong partnership with Cambodia and Cambodian people. Later this month, I will be signing a MoU with the Minister of Culture to renew our cooperation in protecting and restoring cultural heritage,” Murphy said.
“It is a big draw for our tourists to come here. It’s also an important part of the Cambodian-Khmer identity, so we are happy to be good partners,” he added.
Murphy said that trade between Cambodia and the US is important, as Washington is now by far Cambodia’s largest export market. The US market is larger than Cambodia’s next five markets combined; more than 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports are to the US.
This includes textiles, travel goods, agricultural products, bicycles and other equipment, which equate to hundreds of thousands of jobs and is key for Cambodia’s GDP growth.
“My encouragement to the Cambodian government is to maintain good relations so that that market continues to thrive and be a strong source for your economy,” he said.
Murphy said that some countries are still recovering from the global pandemic and looking at supply chains and re-employment, while trying to get tourism back into gear.
“It’s one of the reasons I come frequently to Siem Reap because many Americans come to travel and visit here as tourists to see your great cultural heritage,” he remarked.
In Siem Reap, the US-funded program, Spoons Cambodia Organization, has been running for the past few years. It teaches students English skills to enable them to gain employment in the tourism and hospitality industry in the future.
“We are also doing more with technical and vocational schools here in Cambodia to ensure they are getting the tools they need to succeed,” he said.
A vocational training program is also available in Ratanakiri province in which students study a variety of skills to strengthen their English language capability, Murphy said. Seventy five graduates, including women and indigenous people, are those who need more help to get the same access to the same education opportunity, he added.
Murphy also commented on the historic new government led by Prime Minister Hun Manet, who was given the official seal of approval on Tuesday when he was voted in by the National Assembly.
He said he is hoping that Manet’s government will use the opportunity in a governing role to address some of the challenges in bilateral relationships in Cambodia standing with the rest of the world.
Murphy said that this means ensuring true genuine multiparty democracy, ending politically-motivated trials and releasing those convicted for expressing their private views, including leaders of political parties and activists.
In a speech to the National Assembly on Tuesday, Manet said as the new Prime Minister, he will ensure absolute protection of peace, stability, security and safety for the well-being of the people, as well as the protection of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity so that no one can infringe or sabotage it.
He said that his Government will also ensure governance reform, strengthen the rule of law, social justice and a macroeconomic environment that is resilient to crisis.
He added that there will be reforms in the education and health sectors, promoting and increasing investment in hard and soft infrastructures, and supporting micro, small and medium enterprises and startups to grow.
“The Royal Government is committed to rally all efforts to successfully carry out this historic mission of the Seventh Legislature of the National Assembly toward great success,” Manet said.
At the Digital Forum in Siem Reap, Murphy said he is encouraging public-private partnerships on the technology framework, as the government and private sector cannot achieve this alone; each has comparative advantages and strengths.
“It's important to note that these are uncharted territories. We are now dealing with new technologies, Artificial Intelligence, quantum programming, these are the issues I don’t fully understand myself as a policymaker. That’s why I rely on the private sector to help explain it,” Murphy said.
He said he is also looking at the private sector to cooperate more with governments so technologies can be understood, have a good governing framework that allows prosperity but protects privacy and finance, and, at the same time, protects basic fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and association.
He added that there are many challenges regarding cybersecurity. For example, in the case of Cambodia over the last two years, there has been a real issue with cyber scam centers. This has led to many dimensions of challenges with international crimes, international human trafficking and financial threats against victims across the region and globe.
“There have been American victims of these scam centers. This speaks to the vulnerability of the cyberworld where criminals can manipulate and prey on those who are vulnerable.”
Murphy said that these criminal networks who prey on innocent people are the same networks who illegally traffic wildlife and lumber, among other activities.
“So it behemoths all of us,” he noted.
“They’d like to see more American companies here”
Murphy said that there are many startups in Cambodia and he has engaged with them, especially the youth, about their innovations and inspirations.
He noted that there is a substantial presence of American businesses in Cambodia that employ Cambodians, and this is growing.
“I often hear from Cambodians, they’d like to see more American companies here; more American products, services and investment.”
He said that American businesses would like to see strong infrastructure so their services and products can move. This includes roads, bridges and ports. He added that some of the basics in manufacturing need to be competitive.
“Labor is very competitive in Cambodia but the cost of electricity is not, it’s very high here,” he said.
He added that companies also look at rule of law and desire independent courts that can protect investment in the Kingdom, so there is recourse when disputes occur and that they are followed up.
“They also look for an environment that is free of corruption,” Murphy said, adding that Cambodia has identified these areas for improvement.
“I’m optimistic this can happen, but this is part of our bilateral relationship,” he said. “American companies who operate here adhere to the highest standard, they are protected by American law.”