Cambodia country brief

Bilateral Relations

Australia established diplomatic relations with Cambodia in 1952. Australia's strong support for the Cambodian Peace Process in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including our lead role in the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (1992-93), still resonates positively with Cambodians.

Australia maintains a strong commitment to Cambodia's development. Through Official Development Assistance, we are working with partners in Cambodia to improve access to essential infrastructure, increase agricultural productivity, deliver better health and education outcomes, and promote gender equality.

The bilateral relationship is supported by high-level exchanges. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Cambodia on 16 March 2017.

In October 2016, Chhieng Yanara, Minister attached to the Prime Minister led a delegation of twelve senior Cambodian Government officials to Canberra for the 11th High Level Consultations on Aid between Australia and Cambodia.

Parliamentarians from Cambodia's National Assembly, led by Samdech Heng Samrin, visited Australia on 13-16 March 2016.  

Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, visited Phnom Penh in March and September 2015.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sar Kheng, visited Australia on 24 March 2015 as a Guest of the Australian Government.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop also visited Phnom Penh on 22 February 2014.

Both countries are also working closely to combat people smuggling and trafficking, child sex tourism, narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Australia maintains an Australian Federal Police liaison office in Phnom Penh to encourage and assist Cambodian law enforcement agencies to deal with transnational crime.

Australia has a defence cooperation program with Cambodia that focuses on support for counter-terrorism training, maritime security and English language training.

Australia and Cambodia have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) relating to the voluntary re-settlement of refugees from Nauru in Cambodia. The MoU was signed in September 2014 and continues to be implemented by both countries, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration and settlement service providers. 

Information on Australia's trade and investment relationship with Cambodia and our people to people links is detailed below. Further information on the bilateral relationship is available on the Australian Embassy in Cambodia's website.

Country overview

Political Context

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. The King, Norodom Sihamoni, is the Head of State but does not exercise executive power over the Kingdom. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King from the representatives of the party holding the majority of seats in the National Assembly. The Council of Ministers (Cabinet) is formed by members of the governing party.

Cambodia has a bicameral parliament. The lower house - the National Assembly - is made up of 123 members elected every five years from 25 provinces and municipalities. The Senate, which also has a five year term, is made up of 61 members: two members are appointed by the King, two are appointed by the National Assembly, and the remaining members are elected by commune councilors.

Cambodia's last national election was held on 28 July 2013 in a largely peaceful atmosphere. The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 seats in the National Assembly and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 55 seats – a loss of 22 seats for the CPP. CNRP boycotted parliament for one year following elections citing disputed election results, but returned to parliament in July 2014. On 19 March 2015, the National Assembly unanimously passed new election laws agreed to by both parties. Relations between the ruling CPP and the CNRP continue to face problems throughout the current parliamentary term.

Cambodia's next national election is scheduled for 22 July 2018. 

There are periodic reports of human rights violations and political intimidation in Cambodia. The Australian Embassy closely monitors political developments and the human rights situation in Cambodia and raises issues of concern directly with the Cambodian Government.  Australia co-sponsored a 2015 Human Rights Council resolution focused on assisting Cambodia to promote and protect human rights. Through development initiatives in governance, gender equality, health and disability, Australia's cooperation program also strengthen human rights.

Foreign Policy

China is one of Cambodia's most important partners and the largest donor to Cambodia. The relationship is underpinned by close political and economic links and by the large ethnic Chinese community in Cambodia. There are regular high level exchanges between the two countries.

Cambodia's foreign relations have historically been influenced by its geographical position between Thailand and Vietnam. Cooperation between Vietnam and Cambodia is wide-ranging and underpinned by close political, economic and security links. Vietnam is among Cambodia's largest import sources. There is a sizeable ethnic Vietnamese community in Cambodia. Thailand is another significant import source for Cambodia and has been a key investor in Cambodia, including in the tourism sector. While relations are comprehensive and generally good, border demarcation has been an occasional irritant, fueled by historical sensitivities.

Japan is the second largest donor to Cambodia, and the two countries have a strategic partnership agreement signed in 2013. The Republic of Korea and Singapore are also close and active partners.

The United States is Cambodia's major export market and home to a significant Cambodian diaspora. US assistance to Cambodia is focused on governance, human rights, education and health. Australia is the fifth largest donor to Cambodia following the US.

The European Union also provides significant development support for Cambodia, particularly focused on education, agriculture and governance. Commensurate with its role as Cambodia's former colonial administrator, France continues to take an active interest in Cambodia's development.

Cambodia is increasingly active in regional fora. It became a member of ASEAN in April 1999. Cambodia last chaired ASEAN and the East Asia Summit in 2012.

Economic context

The Cambodian economy is growing rapidly on the back of four main sectors: garments, tourism, agribusiness, and construction. Cambodia's economy recovered strongly from the global economic downturn and Cambodia reached lower-middle income status in 2016, according to the World Bank.  Its GDP growth for 2017 is estimated at approximately 7% according to the World Bank. Cambodia joined the WTO in 2004 and has a relatively open trading regime.  Cambodia is a member of the ASEAN Economic Community.

Trade and investment relationship

Cambodia's relatively stable, high-growth path is supported by encouraging demographic trends, improving education levels, and a growing middle-class. Australia is well-placed to meet demand for education services, financial and professional services, and agricultural produce.

Two-way goods and services trade between Australia and Cambodia was valued at $535 million in 2016. Wheat and cereal preparations are Australia's major merchandise exports to Cambodia.  Clothing and footwear are major imports to Australia from Cambodia.

Cambodian investment in Australia was $886 million in 2016. The country fact sheet on Cambodia contains further details.

Australia and Cambodia are parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement which entered into force on 1 January 2010. Australia and Cambodia are also negotiating parties to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement.

As a least developed country, Cambodia's products are granted tariff-free access to Australia. Cambodia and Australia have a bilateral market access agreement which was concluded as part of Cambodia's accession to the WTO in October 2004.

Demand for quality education is increasing in Cambodia even though the education market is relatively small. Around 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30, enrolment rates in school are improving and there is a growing middle class able to afford private education. Australia is well positioned in this market and is the English language destination of choice for Cambodians looking to study abroad. Student numbers to Australia have grown rapidly over the past decade. In 2016, there were over 1,400 Cambodian students studying in Australia, an increase of 21% from the previous year.

ANZ opened a joint venture bank with Cambodia's Royal Group - ANZ Royal Bank - in 2005. Other Australian companies are providing financial and professional services in Cambodia.

In June 2016, Cambodia received the first shipment of Australian-exported feeder and slaughter cattle, following Cambodia's agreement to Australian health protocols. 

The Australian Chamber of Commerce (AusCham) Cambodia was established in 1995 to promote the interests of the Australian business community. Membership spans a wide-range of sectors, including construction, law, transportation, medical and education.

Two-way education ties are increasing. In the first quarter of 2017, there were 1,498 Cambodians at Australian institutions, which is a 30.1% increase over the same period in 2016. Australian company IDP Education is a leading student placement services provider in Cambodia.  

Other Areas of Engagement

Development Assistance

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $87.4 million in total Official Development Assistance to Cambodia in 2017-18. This will include an estimated $62.4 million in bilateral funding to Cambodia.

Through Australia's aid program we are contributing to greater prosperity in Cambodia and reduced poverty in the Indo-Pacific region. Our aid complements diplomatic and security efforts to address shared challenges including transnational crime, people smuggling and pandemics.  

The Cambodia Aid Investment Plan 2015-2018 outlines three objectives of Australia's aid to Cambodia: improving access to essential infrastructure, increasing agricultural productivity and farmer incomes, and better health and education outcomes. In addition, DFAT funds complementary programs to enhance the inclusive participation of people living with a disability, promote the ending of violence against women, support community policing and improve governance.

DFAT's website offers an overview of Australia's development assistance in Cambodia, including the Aid Investment Plan Cambodia 2015-16 and  the Aid Program Performance Report 2015-2016.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is investigating and prosecuting senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime and those most responsible for atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979. Australia's support reinforces our commitment to human rights and holding those responsible for serious international crimes to account. In September 2016, Australia committed a further $6.5 million from 2016 to 2018 to support the ECCC. Since 2003 Australia has contributed US$27.89 million to the ECCC.

People to People Links

Community and cultural links continue to develop and play an important role in the Australia-Cambodia relationship.

Cambodian Community in Australia

According to the 2016 census, there were around 33,000 Cambodian-born people and their families living in Australia. The wider Cambodian community in Australia, including those born in Australia of Cambodian descent, is estimated to number around 60,000.

Cambodian refugees began arriving in Australia after Pol Pot gained power in 1975, and numbers peaked in the 1980s. Between April 1975 and June 1986, 12,813 arrivals were sponsored under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program. Family stream migration increased the numbers of Cambodian-born people in Australia to over 20,000 by the mid-1990s.

Australian Community in Cambodia

Approximately 3,000 Australians are resident in Cambodia, most being dual Cambodian-Australian citizens or expatriates involved in development assistance work or business. Tourism continues to grow. Approximately 146,806 Australians visited Cambodia in 2016.

Australia Awards and New Colombo Plan

Through Australian Government scholarships, more than 700 Cambodians have studied in Australia since 1994 and the Australia Awards Scholarships Program continues this legacy today.

Australia Awards Scholarships provide talented Cambodians with the opportunity to obtain a postgraduate qualification at the Masters or PhD level at an Australian tertiary institution. In recognition of the genuine development challenges across all sectors in Cambodia, scholarships are awarded to applicants from all fields of study (with the exception of a Master of Business Administration).

The program aims to offer at least half of the scholarships to women. It has an equity pathway component to assist women and potential applicants with a disability to reach the application requirements. Further information is available through the Australia Awards Scholarships Cambodia website.

Australia Awards scholars have returned to Cambodia and are actively contributing to Cambodia's development, in a range of sectors, including: health; infrastructure; agriculture; education; trade; disability; and fields related to ending violence against women.

By the end of 2017, the New Colombo Plan (NCP) will have supported more than 800 Australian undergraduate students to study or undertake internships in Cambodia since 2015. NCP mobility projects in Cambodia include: engineering students using their practical skills and knowledge to repair vital medical equipment; veterinary science students learning to control animal diseases which can cross national boundaries; and social work students undertaking practicum placements.  The Cambodian Government and the private sector in Cambodia have been supportive of the NCP, including by providing internship opportunities. Cambodia organisations can register with the NCP Internship and Mentorship Network to offer internship opportunities.

Last Updated: 10 July 2017