Last week, Hun Manet, the eldest son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who now serves as commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, was in Singapore for his first visit in his current capacity. The trip highlighted the defense aspect of the relationship between Singapore and Cambodia amid ongoing domestic transitions in both Southeast Asian states.
Cambodia and Singapore initially established their relationship back in 1965 and have continued to maintain ties in spite of occasional differences. The relationship has been in the spotlight of late following the fallout from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks on Southeast Asia’s history when paying tribute to Thailand’s recently deceased former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda. Lee had characterized Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, which took place in 1978 and ousted the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, as being an invasion and occupation that challenged regime legitimacy. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in response that the remarks suggested Singapore’s support for genocide. It was just the latest manifestation of lingering differences between Southeast Asian states on aspects of the region’s historical legacy.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight with Hun Manet’s visit to Singapore. Hun Manet was on his first trip to Singapore in his current capacity as both commander of the Royal Cambodian Army and the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The trip came amid talk of domestic transitions on both sides – with Singapore looking to gradually transition away from Lee to a newer generation of leaders, and speculation continuing about a post-Hun Sen Cambodia with Hun Manet as a potential successor.
The trip, which lasted from June 11 to June 13, consisted of a series of interactions. In terms of defense-related meetings, Hun Manet met with various top officials, including Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong, Chief of Army Goh Si Hou, and Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen. Per Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), during the meeting between Ng and Hun Manet, the two sides reaffirmed the defense ties between their two countries and discussed regional and international security issues of mutual interest.
The trip also saw Hun Manet engage in a series of other interactions as well. On the defense side, he visited Headquarters Commandos at Herndon Camp. And beyond these defense-related interactions, he also met with Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, where they discussed various subjects including ways to enhance military exchanges and engagements such as the inaugural Singapore-Cambodia MFA-to-MFA bilateral consultations set to take place on June 19.
To be sure, Hun Manet’s visit was just one among several interactions between Cambodia and Singapore. But these engagements will continue to be significant to monitor amid the wider domestic and foreign policies of both countries to get a sense of where the relationship is headed.