Mr Sorphorn served at Cambodia’s mission in Bangkok in various positions from 2007 to 2011. In March this year he commenced his second tour of Thailand, this time as ambassador. The BigChilli met the 44-year-old career diplomat recently at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.
“I was born into a lower middle class family in April 1975 in Kampong Cham province, which borders Vietnam. My father owns a small business and my mother is a housewife,” Mr. Sorphorn said. “I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC) when I was 20 years old, in 1995, after receiving an Associate’s Degree in Economic Planning Specialization. Twenty years later, in 2015, I turned 40 and became the MFAIC’s Director-General for ASEAN. When I’m 60 I will retire, so I have another 15 years to work for the government. I joined the ministry because I wanted to promote my country’s image and reputation to the world, and it was a good decision.
“This is my first assignment as ambassador but the second assignment in Thailand. When I left the Royal Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok in 2011 I held the position of Charge d’Affaires, directly under the ambassador. The process of becoming my country’s ambassador began when I was appointed by His Majesty the King of Cambodia in November 2018. The Cambodian side then sent the nomination to Thailand to seek approval, which was granted in February 2019. I arrived in Bangkok in March and in April I received approval from the Thai government to function as ambassador. On May 8, I presented my credentials to His Majesty the King of Thailand. I was in a group with seven other ambassadors and was the last to present my credential to the King that day.
“Since I was assigned here the first time in 2007, the country and Bangkok have changed a lot – for the better. Just look at all the cars, the skyscrapers, the shopping malls and the infrastructure projects and you can tell whether or not the country is prospering.”
“I have a lot of work to do at the embassy. I have to take care of bilateral issues and I am also the Permanent Representative of Cambodia to UNESCAP in Bangkok. And of course, there is always a lot of consular work. Cambodian citizens receive a lot of assistance from us, like extension and certification of travel and legal documents. We take care of whatever they need. We provide a one-day service for Cambodians who come to the embassy.
They can apply for and receive documents on the same day. But the issuing of a new passport can be done only in Cambodia. If someone loses a passport, we give him or her a certified document and she or he can travel to Cambodia to apply for a new passport.
“There is a vast number of Cambodian workers in Thailand, and in general they behave very well. Relations between our two countries are very good now, and I think this is beneficial for our workers. The Thai authorities are providing a lot of help to our workers, and they realize that they are needed by Thai businesses, along with workers from Laos and Myanmar.
“Sometimes I travel to different provinces to meet with Cambodians in Thailand. In the past seven months, I have met with eight groups of Cambodians. The last event was attended by 10,000 people in Pathum Thani province when our embassy organized a concert in collaboration with DTAC and invited popular singers from Cambodia.
“I try to explain the phenomenal economic growth of Cambodia in order to attract businesses. We brought representatives from 20 companies to Cambodia in October and in November I plan to bring another 100 Thai and Japanese businessman to Cambodia,” said the ambassador. On top of all his other duties, he is busy with preparations to host Cambodia’s national day celebration on November 8.
“There are around 30 embassies in Phnom Penh. Our embassy here deals directly with the ambassadors of 33 countries who reside in Bangkok and also cover Cambodia. This is my other big responsibility. Recently I brought 19 Bangkok-based ambassadors and their spouses to Aranyaprathet, Poipet and Siem Reap province by coach. Again, I must coordinate everything.”
“We have 16 Cambodian diplomats including myself at the embassy, and 11 local staff. This is the most personnel of any Cambodian mission, anywhere.” He lives with his family at the residence inside the embassy’s compound, along with other diplomats and their families. “I like it because it’s convenient. I don’t have to deal with traffic so I save time and energy, and I can work long hours in my embassy office,” said Mr Sorphorn, adding that he doesn’t feel this arrangement deprives him of privacy. “We work here as a team, and everyone is very polite to each other and to my family. We live together in harmony. I feel happy here.”
Trade and investment
“The trade between Thailand and Cambodia both ways was around US$7 billion last year. We import petrol and some agricultural products from Thailand. We share a long border, so a lot of thing can be transported by even walking across. Many big Thai companies recently invested in Cambodia, such as CP, Macro and Big C, while some others are already well-established in Cambodia like SCG. Cambodia exports to Thailand mostly agricultural products like soybeans and mesh. We import less cars or spare parts from Thailand as many countries do.
“Over the last 20 years, Cambodia’s GDP growth hasn’t gone under 7%. China is the largest foreign investor in Cambodia with a total investment of US$7.8 billion in the first eight months of 2019. It was followed by Japan, Viet Nam, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. We have incentive policies to attract foreign direct investment. Our economy relies on foreign investment in the real estate, tourism and agricultural sectors. We have changed our industrial policies to stimulate further growth. We want to move into the ranks of the upper middle-income country by 2030 and by 2050 be a high-income country. We are devoting a lot of energy and resources to this plan.”
The ambassador extended a welcome to expats who are considering a move to Cambodia. We are trying to attract European tourists to stay longer, and there are special arrangements in place for citizens of South Korea, Japan and China for a one-year visa. We have plenty of condominiums available for expats and prices are still reasonable, including in areas along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers which are ideal for retirees. Same as in Thailand, foreigners cannot buy land in Cambodia,” said Mr Sorphorn.
“About one million Cambodians visit Thailand for tourism purposes annually and 300,000-400,000 Thai nationals visit Cambodia. These numbers don’t include merchants and others who cross the border on a regular basis. A lot of foreigners from all over the world come to see Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province. The temple was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Cambodia has many great tourist attractions and is now a very peaceful country. During the past 20 years we have followed the Win-Win Policy set by Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen. Last year we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the policy. We are open to all countries and as a small country and we want to be friends with all countries. To do this we act from our hearts.”
“I am married and have three sons,” said Mr Sophorn at the close of the interview. “I like to exercise. We have a small gym at the embassy where I exercise regularly. I also go jogging around the embassy. I like to play table tennis, read and travel. I can speak Khmer, English and some Thai. My family and I are enjoying life in Bangkok. The term for ambassadors is usually three years, but if the government requires us to stay longer the term can be extended one year, up to three times.”
In the conclusion to the interview the Ambassador said: “The Royal Embassy of Cambodia in Bangkok would like to thank the following sponsors for their generous support: CP All Public Company Limited, BJC Big C Group of Companies, Siam Cement Group, Siam Piwat Company, K&K Parawood Co., Ltd., Green Plastwood Co., Ltd., Tri Foundation (Cambodia), Assumption University of Thailand and Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel.”
Some statistics of the Kingdom of Cambodia
· Population : 2019: 16.28 million. Urban: 4.06 million; rural:12,22 million.
· Gender ratio : 2019: Females: 8.27 million (51%); males: 8.01 million (49%).
· Religion : 90% Buddhism;10% others.
· Nominal GDP (million US$) : 2017: 22,162; 2018: 24,605 (estimated).
· GDP growth : 2017: 7.0%; 2018 (est) 7.3%.
· GDP per capita (million US$) : 2017: 1.427; 2018 (est) 1,563.
· Trade volume (million US$) : 2017: Exports: 11,224; imports: 15,502; trade volume 26,725. 2018: Exports: 12,768; imports: 17,606;
· International reserve (million US$): 2017: 8,758; 2018: 9,494.
Speaking at the 75th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok on May 27, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Kingdom of Cambodia has enjoyed peace and reconciliation since 1998, when the Khmer Rouge defected and joined the government. He said the Win-Win Policy brought an end to decades of war and armed conflict.
“The Win-Win Policy, which was laid out by ourselves without any external order or assistance, allowed Cambodia to resolve all kinds of problems based on the trust developed between Khmers. This is the condition that has brought about peace and it has been deeply rooted in the society for more than 20 years,” said PM Hun Sen.
· 2008 -2011: Master Degree in Political Science, Ramkhamhaeng
University, Bangkok [Thesis: Future Direction of ASEAN].
· 2001-2004: Bachelor Degree (B.B.A.) in General Management, Build Bright University, Phnom Penh.
· 1994-1996: Associate Degree in Economic Planning Specialization,
Institute of Planning and Statistics, Phnom Penh.
· 2019 Feb to present: Advisor to the Supreme Directors-Sangha Council, Kingdom of Cambodia.
· 2018 Nov to present: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Kingdom of Thailand.
· 2018 (Sep-Nov): Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFA.IC), Phnom Penh.
· 2015-2018 (Sep): Director-General, General Department of ASEAN, MFA.IC.
· 2011-2015: Deputy Director-General, General Department of ASEAN, MFA.IC.
· 2009-2011: Charge d’Affaires a.i. and Acting Permanent Representative to UNESCAP of the Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the Kingdom of Thailand.
· 2007-2009: Counsellor/Deputy Permanent Representative to UNESCAP, Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the Kingdom of Thailand.
· 2004-2006: Deputy Director, General Department of ASEAN, MFA.IC.
· 2003-2004: Bureau Chief, General Department of ASEAN, MFA.IC.
· 2002-2003: Attachment Officer, the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia.
· 1999-2003: Deputy Bureau Chief, General Department of ASEAN,
· 1996-1999: Assistance to Under-Secretary of State, MFA.IC.
· 1995-1996: Official, General Administrative Department, MFA.IC.
· 2019: Order of Her Majesty the Queen Preah Kossomak Nearireath, Grand Cross.
· 2018: Royal Order of Cambodia, Officer.
· 2017: Royal Order of Monisaraphorn, Grand Officer.
· 2013: Royal Order of Monisaraphorn, Commander.
· 2003: Medal of Labor, Bronze.