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Cambodia country brief

Cambodia country brief

Bilateral Relations

Australia established diplomatic relations with Cambodia in 1952. Australia's strong support for the Cambodian Peace Process in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including our lead role in the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (1992-93), still resonates positively with Cambodians.

Australia maintains a strong commitment to Cambodia's development. Through Official Development Assistance, we are working with partners in Cambodia to improve access to essential infrastructure, increase agricultural productivity, deliver better health and education outcomes, and promote gender equality.

Both countries are also working closely to combat people smuggling and trafficking, child sex tourism, narcotics trafficking, and terrorism. Australia maintains an Australian Federal Police liaison office in Phnom Penh to encourage and assist Cambodian law enforcement agencies to deal with transnational crime.

Australia has a defence cooperation program with Cambodia that focuses on professionalisation of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Further information on the bilateral relationship is available on the Australian Embassy in Cambodia's website.

Country overview

Political context

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. The King, Norodom Sihamoni, is the Head of State. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King from the representatives of the party holding the majority of seats in the National Assembly. The Council of Ministers (Cabinet) is formed by members of the governing party.

Cambodia has a bicameral parliament. The lower house, the National Assembly, is made up of 123 members elected every five years from 25 provinces and municipalities. The Senate, which also has a five year term, is made up of 61 members: two members are appointed by the King, two are appointed by the National Assembly, and the remaining members are elected by commune councillors.

Cambodia's last national election was held on 29 July 2018. On 30 July 2018, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, issued a media release on Cambodia's electoral process, which followed a 12 November 2017 media release on the political situation in Cambodia.

There are periodic reports of human rights violations and political intimidation in Cambodia. The Australian Embassy closely monitors political developments and the human rights situation in Cambodia and raises issues of concern directly with the Cambodian Government.
Australia has made statements about Cambodia in the UN Human Rights Council.

Economic context

The Cambodian economy is growing rapidly, driven by garment manufacturing, tourism, and construction. Cambodia's economy recovered strongly from the global economic downturn and Cambodia reached lower-middle income status in 2016, according to the World Bank.

Cambodia's GDP growth for 2018 is estimated at approximately 6.8 percent according to the IMF. Cambodia joined the WTO in 2004 and has a relatively open trading regime. Cambodia is a member of the ASEAN Economic Community.

Trade and investment relationship

Cambodia's relatively stable, high-growth path is supported by encouraging demographic trends, improving education levels, and a growing middle-class. Australia is well-placed to meet demand for education services, financial and professional services, and agricultural produce. The country fact sheet on Cambodia contains details about Australia's trade and investment relationship with Cambodia.

Australia and Cambodia are parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement which entered into force on 1 January 2010. Australia and Cambodia are also negotiating parties to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement.

As a least developed country, Cambodia's products are granted tariff-free access to Australia. Cambodia and Australia have a bilateral market access agreement which was concluded as part of Cambodia's accession to the WTO in October 2004.

Demand for quality education is increasing in Cambodia even though the education market is relatively small. Around 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30, enrolment rates in school are improving and there is a growing middle class able to afford private education.

Australia is well positioned in this market and is the English language destination of choice for Cambodians looking to study abroad. Student numbers to Australia have grown rapidly over the past decade. In 2016, there were over 1,400 Cambodian students studying in Australia, an increase of 21 per cent from the previous year.

Two-way education ties are increasing. In 2017, there were 1,806 Cambodians at Australian institutions, which is a 28 per cent increase since in 2016. Australian company IDP Education is a leading student placement services provider in Cambodia.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce (AusCham) Cambodia was established in 1995 to promote the interests of the Australian business community. Membership spans a wide-range of sectors.

Other areas of engagement

Development assistance

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $83.6 million in total Official Development Assistance to Cambodia in 2018-19. This will include an estimated $56.1 million in bilateral funding to Cambodia.

Through Australia's aid program, we are contributing to greater prosperity and stability in Cambodia and the region by supporting access to public services and balanced, inclusive economic growth. Our aid complements diplomatic and security efforts to address shared challenges including transnational crime, people smuggling and pandemics.

The Cambodia Aid Investment Plan 2015-2018 outlines three objectives of Australia's aid to Cambodia: improving access to essential infrastructure, increasing agricultural productivity and farmer incomes, and better health and education outcomes. In addition, DFAT funds complementary programs to enhance the inclusive participation of people living with a disability, promote the ending of violence against women and improve governance.

DFAT's website offers an overview of Australia's development assistance in Cambodia, including the Aid Investment Plan Cambodia 2015-18 and the Aid Program Performance Report 2017-18.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is investigating and prosecuting senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime and those most responsible for atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979.

Australia's support reinforces our commitment to human rights and holding to account those responsible for serious international crimes. In September 2018, Australia committed a further $5 million from 2018 to 2020 to support the ECCC. From 2004 - 2017 Australia contributed $39 million to the ECCC.

People to People Links

Community and cultural links continue to develop and play an important role in the Australia-Cambodia relationship.

Cambodian Community in Australia

According to the 2016 census, there were around 33,000 Cambodian-born people and their families living in Australia. The wider Cambodian community in Australia, including those born in Australia of Cambodian descent, is estimated to number around 60,000.

Cambodian refugees began arriving in Australia after Pol Pot gained power in 1975, and numbers peaked in the 1980s. Family stream migration increased the numbers of Cambodian-born people in Australia to over 20,000 by the mid-1990s.

Australian Community in Cambodia

Approximately 6,000-7,000 Australians reside in Cambodia, most being dual Cambodian-Australian citizens or expatriates involved in development assistance work or business. Tourism continues to grow. Approximately 146,806 Australians visited Cambodia in 2016.

Australia Awards and New Colombo Plan

Through Australian Government scholarships, more than 800 Cambodians have studied in Australia since 1994 and the Australia Awards Scholarships Program continues this legacy today.

Australia Awards Scholarships provide talented Cambodians with the opportunity to obtain a postgraduate qualification at an Australian tertiary institution, following a robust selection process. We ensure scholarships are offered to Cambodians from a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds. Scholarships are awarded based on academic competence, potential to contribute to development outcomes and the leadership attributes of applicants.

The program aims to offer at least half of the scholarships to women. It has an equity pathway component to assist women and potential applicants with a disability to reach the application requirements and to help us achieve this ambitious target. In 2018, 46 per cent of scholarships were awarded to female applicants. Further information is available through the Australia Awards Scholarships Cambodia website.

Australia Awards scholars have returned to Cambodia and are actively contributing to Cambodia's development, in a range of sectors.

In 2018, the New Colombo Plan (NCP) will support around 530 students to study in Cambodia. Between 2015-2018, the NCP will have supported 1340 Australian undergraduate students to study or undertake internships in Cambodia.

The Cambodian Government and the private sector in Cambodia have been supportive of the NCP, including by providing internship opportunities. Cambodian organisations can register with the NCP Internship and Mentorship Network to offer internship opportunities.

High Level Visits

The bilateral relationship is supported by high-level exchanges.

Cambodia's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Veng Sakhon, led a mission on agri-business opportunities to Australia in November 2017.

The then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Cambodia on 16 March 2017.

Cambodia's Minister attached to the Prime Minister, Chhieng Yanara, led a delegation of twelve senior Cambodian Government officials to Canberra for the 11th High Level Consultations on Aid between Australia and Cambodia in October 2016.

Parliamentarians from Cambodia's National Assembly, led by Samdech Heng Samrin, visited Australia on 13-16 March 2016.

The then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, visited Phnom Penh in March and September 2015.

Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sar Kheng, visited Australia on 24 March 2015 as a Guest of the Australian Government.

The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, visited Phnom Penh on 22 February 2014.

Last Updated: 23 October 2018
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