Ry Sochan – East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta arrived in Phnom Penh on October 19 for a three-day visit to boost ties.
Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Hun Sen will preside over the signing ceremony of two bilateral agreements – an air services agreement and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the rice trade between the two countries.
"The state visit of President Ramos-Horta to [Cambodia] will further strengthen and deepen the relations and cooperation for both bilateral and multilateral frameworks for the mutual benefit of both countries," Hun Sen said in a social media post.
Ramos-Horta said at a press conference on 19 October that his government is keen to have free trade agreements (FTA) with Cambodia, saying he is a strong advocate of FTAs.
He said he believes East Timor will be able to join ASEAN soon and that will lead to five more ASEAN countries opening embassies in his country that will facilitate day-to-day communications and cooperation.
Cambodia has a very special affinity with East Timor and with the two countries' interests in enhancing trade and economic relations, he would like to see Cambodian businesspeople visiting his country to explore these possibilities, Ramos-Horta said.
"What are the possibilities? Tourism, for instance, the tourism sector. We have the richest biodiversity in the world. And this is not a statement from me, it's from Conservation International plus Australian, American and British scientists who were there studying it for three years.
"They did a survey across the entire region, then released a report a few years ago saying that, surprisingly to all of them – [East Timor] has the richest biodiversity in the world," he noted.
Ramos-Horta also stated that in order to join ASEAN, East Timor went through 10 years of serious preparation and the country's leaders collectively along with everyone in the country – not just one particular political party or one particular group – views it as a national strategic objective and in the national interest to join the bloc.
"To that end, we worked hard to meet the benchmarks for the three pillars of ASEAN: Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community. We've met most of them but admittedly we still have a long way to go to be fully in compliance with the economic pillar," he said.
"I'm very pleased to return to this great country, great Kingdom. This is not my first visit. I was here for the first time in 2000 before [East Timor's] independence," Ramos-Horta said.
He recalled that he visited while he was foreign minister after the independence and then as president for the first time in 2010 or 2011, and after that he came at least twice as a former president for some academic lectures.
"So it is my great pleasure and privilege to be here and to have witnessed every time I've visited such a dramatic positive transformation," Ramos-Horta noted.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Ramos-Horta's visit is important to strengthening and developing relations and cooperation between the two countries.
He said Cambodia has offered the strongest support for East Timor during the process of applying to join ASEAN.
"Prime Minister Hun Sen also made a solemn announcement at the UN General Assembly that ASEAN welcomes a new member, East Timor, into ASEAN. But whether this process can be completed in the Kingdom, the Cambodian government has shown its goodwill and commitment and its support for East Timor," he said.