The French connection: exploration of long links

France is committed to strengthening its cooperation with Cambodia, especially in the areas of health, education, digital technology, the economy and infrastructure.

Ry Sochan

Ry Sochan

The Phnom Penh Post


January 19, 2024

PHNOM PENH – The relationship between France and Cambodia is a long-standing one, deeply rooted in a long and vibrant history.

The French consider the relationship a trustworthy one, as is reflected by its close cooperation and support as the Kingdom prepares for future challenges. France has also voiced its support for Cambodia’s bid to host the 2026 Francophone Summit, a gathering of the leaders of countries from all across the French-speaking world.

Relations between the two countries focus on several priority areas, including human resource training, sustainable development, combating climate change, protecting biodiversity, the role of culture and the promotion of Cambodia’s heritage.

France is committed to strengthening its cooperation with Cambodia, especially in the areas of health, education, digital technology, the economy and infrastructure.

“France and Cambodia have a long history of relations. The relationship has generally been good, with mutual understanding since the beginning,” government spokesman Pen Bona told The Post.

At the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Hun Manet is in France for his first official visit since assuming the top office in August 2023.

Ahead of the January 18-19 state visit, Bona expressed hopes that Manet’s meetings with the French president would result in further strong cooperation.

Thong Mengdavid, a research supervisor at the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), explained that through the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and Francophonie, France has played a crucial role in promoting and protecting Cambodia’s security, stability and socio-economic development.

He said Manet’s visit to France, which followed a visit by King Norodom Sihamoni, would further enhance socio-economic and human resource development, as well as cultural protections, while also promoting Cambodia’s business environment to French investors.

In November 2023, Macron hosted the King at the Elysee Palace in Paris, with the French side describing the meeting as reflecting the will to strengthen the special ties between the two nations.

“Currently, France is helping Cambodia advance its scientific and academic development, while French development agency AFD has been promoting infrastructure development, small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] support, and industry since 1993 with €1 billion in assistance. France and Cambodia should consider further strengthening of scientific and technological advancement, military cooperation, and the promotion of South-South development,” Mengdavid told The Post.

Healthcare support

In the field of health, France has contributed to the Kingdom’s efforts to combat Covid-19 through its contributions to the global COVAX vaccine mechanism and the activities of the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia (PIC).

France has welcomed more than 1,000 Cambodian physicians since 1996, stepping up efforts to strengthen the capacity of Cambodian doctors, in association with the University of Health Sciences (UHS), a historical partner of France.

The French embassy in Phnom Penh stated that the presence of French research bodies, including the Research Institute for Development (IRD), the French Research Centre (CIRAD), the French Scientific Research Agency (ANRS-MIE) and the PIC, all strengthened cooperation in the field of hospitals. France also holds a seat on the board of Calmette Hospital.

This long-standing cooperation is also evidenced by France’s support for the training of Cambodian medical students and the mobilisation of international experts at key institutions.

The embassy offered an example of this cooperation, noting that around 12 Cambodian pulmonologists are trained each year, mostly in France.

Education Cooperation

Each year, France provides scholarships to outstanding Cambodian students to pursue Master’s and doctoral degrees at universities or other institutes of higher education there. Approximately 150 Cambodian students are awarded scholarships to study in France every year.

The scholarship programmes include a French government programme, which supports about 50 students per year, the Excellence Eiffel programme, offered to around 10, the Erasmus+ programme, which attracts about 15, and the medical training programme, which supports around 70.

According to the French embassy, in 2022, a total of 312 Cambodian students received French degrees after studying in France or through French-language institutions in Cambodia. Currently, there are more than 800 Cambodian students studying in France.

Students can also earn degrees from French higher education institutions through French language training at four Cambodian universities: The Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC) and the UHS.

In addition, France also strives to promote the study of the French language in Cambodia. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the French embassy has established a programme to strengthen teacher training and enhance the usage of the French language. Their vision for this year is to focus on strengthening the ability of French teachers and to promote French as the language of science and work.

Cultural protections

The Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap province features more than 200 temples and about 600 archaeological sites, and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Through the International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor), France and Japan have co-chaired the safeguarding and sustainable development of the Angkor heritage sites for the past 30 years. The two countries will continue to co-chair the committee for another 10 years from 2024 to 2033.

Between 1993 and 2023, with the support of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, restorations were conducted on two major temples. The work on the Baphuon Temple was completed in 2011, while renovations at the Western Mebon Temple are ongoing.

Over the past 30 years, vocational training related to heritage preservation has been delivered to hundreds of officials, and archaeological research has been strengthened, said the embassy.

Defence ties

France co-chaired the Paris Peace Agreements which were signed in 1991. They marked the beginning of a return to peace and national reconciliation in Cambodia, with support from the UN.

France was the second country to send blue helmet peacekeepers to Cambodia during the time of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in the 1990s.

Long-standing defence relations between Cambodia and France continue through military cooperation, especially training and assistance in the deployment of Cambodian peacekeepers on UN missions.

In November 2023, two French military officers shared their experience in finding and managing explosives in Cambodia to 19 peacekeepers from 10 Asian countries, including 15 peacekeepers from the Kingdom.

As of October 2023, about 800 Cambodian blue helmet troops were deployed on UN peacekeeping missions, mostly in French-speaking African countries.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told The Post that when talking about Cambodia-France relations, the first thing that came to mind was France’s role in the Kingdom’s peace process, especially the Paris Peace Agreements. France served as co-chair of the International Conference on Cambodia.

He said the second thing he recalled would be France’s role in the process of rebuilding Cambodia, noting its prominent role in the restoration of temples and the development of human resources in fields such as law, health and public administration reform.

The Royal School of Administration (RSA) was also re-established with the help of the French.

“France has played an important role in Cambodia’s foreign policy toward the West. France is the backbone of the EU, so good relations with France provide an opportunity for Cambodia to promote its relations with other European countries. It serves as gateway to the West in terms of politics, diplomacy and strategy, as well as trade and investment exchanges. France is also Cambodia’s main market in Europe,” said Phea.

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