Tan eyes closer Khmer ties

Then president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, with King Norodom Sihamoni in 2009. Sihamoni has largely gone under the radar since taking the throne. Source: Flickr

Singapore and Cambodia were growing closer together as Asean economic integration deepened, said Singaporean President Tony Tan Keng Yam during his first visit to the impoverished kingdom.

Dr Tan said: “Our trade and investment ties are healthy. Singapore was Cambodia’s eighth largest trading partner and third largest investor last year. Singapore’s businesses are active in many sectors, including real estate, finance, energy, agriculture, logistics, and consumer products. Singapore and Cambodia are well connected by 43 weekly flights, paving the way for increasing people-to-people exchanges, business partnerships and tourism flows.

The president added: “Singapore is keen to further strengthen relations with Cambodia.” Around 250 Singaporeans are electronically registered as working in Cambodia.

Tan, who is visiting Laos next, attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to Cambodian independence.

The 20-metre tall, lotus-shaped monument in central Phnom Penh commemorates independence from France in 1953 and the millions who died in Cambodia’s protracted 20th-century conflicts.

He was received by acting defence minister Chay Saing Yun.

Tan is due to meet King Norodom Sihamoni, 63, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving heads of government.

The king is in the headlines at the moment, which is unusual for the discreet monarch.

Cambodia’s police plan to arrest three suspects who are accused of manipulating a picture of the king to place him in a gay porn scene, under the headline: “Cambodia King is gay” and posting it on Facebook.

Sihamoni, who became king in 2004, is largely respected by Cambodians and seen as being above politics.

Cambodia’s constitution says the monarch is “inviolable”, or not to be treated disrespectfully.

A spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry, General Khieu Sopheak, told AFP: “We have got orders to arrest them. If we don’t take action against them, more people might follow their act. The king represents the whole nation, and they are insulting the king, which is like they are insulting the whole nation.”

Cambodia’s kings were once seen as semi divine but the role is now largely ceremonial with Sihamoni fulfilling his duties while keeping out of Cambodia’s corruption-ridden politics.

Sihamoni speaks English, French and Czech and spent much of his adult life abroad, pursuing a career in classical dance before returning home to take the throne.