by Nguon Sovan
PHNOM PENH, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- The successful hosting of the 21st Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its related summits here in November was definitely the biggest achievement of Cambodia in 2012 despite some sad events such as the death of the venerated former King Norodom Sihanouk in October.
"In general, we can say that 2012 is a successful and proud year for Cambodia. The country sees full political stability and security and the economy grows very well," Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
He said 2012 also witnessed stronger ties between Cambodia and China.
"Both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had visited Cambodia," he said, recalling that during Hu's visit to Phnom Penh at the end of March 2012, the two countries agreed to boost annual bilateral trade volume to 5 billion U.S. dollars by 2017.
MATTER OF REPUTATION
He said that during the historic summit, Cambodia was able to welcome the heads of state of the member-countries of ASEAN and its dialogue partners, including leaders from the United States, China, South Korea and Japan.
"It was a great success for Cambodia to provide full security and safety for those leaders and we led the proceedings of the summits successfully," Phay Siphan said.
"Those leaders' presence here reflected their trust in Cambodia 's political stability and security and would build more confidence among foreign investors in Cambodia's economic environment," he added.
Prof. Sok Touch, deputy director general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, said it was a great honor for a small and impoverished country like Cambodia to successfully host and chair a series of ASEAN summits with regional and global leaders.
"The success would raise Cambodia's prestige and reputation in the international arena," he told Xinhua.
ECONOMIC MOMENTUM GAINING
Besides success in politics, Phay Siphan said, on the economic side, the country could achieve a sustainable economic growth of around 7 percent for 2012, one of the fastest in the region.
"We see increases in all sectors supporting the economy including industrial sector, agriculture, tourism, real estate, and foreign direct investment," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said on Dec. 7 at the National Assembly's session that the GDP growth in 2012 is expected at 7 percent in equivalent to 15.6 billion U.S. dollars and the inflation rate will be as low as 2.9 percent.
Cambodia's economy is supported by four pillars--garment export, tourism, agriculture, and real estate.
He predicted that agriculture would grow by 2.4 percent, the industrial sector by 11.8 percent, services by 6.8 percent, and tourism services by 7 percent.
According to the latest government reports, during the first ten months of 2012, the country exported garment products valued at 3.82 billion U.S. dollars, up 7.6 percent compared with the same period in 2011, while tourism sector attracted some 2.86 million foreign tourists, a 24 percent rise.
For construction industry, the country attracted investments worth 1.83 billion U.S. dollars in the first nine months of 2012, a staggering 83 percent rise.
Despite these significant achievements, there were a couple of regretful events happened in 2012.
One was that the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting held here in July failed to issue the customary joint communique due to apparent disagreement among member countries on the wordings in the document towards South China Sea disputes.
Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in a press conference on July 13 that the failure was due to the insistence of some ASEAN individual countries to use strong language in the joint communique, which, to him, was unacceptable to Cambodia as the chair of ASEAN in 2012.
The other was the loss of Cambodia to South Korea in its bid for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC) for 2013-2014 in a vote at the UNSC in New York on Oct. 18.
"Winning or losing is normal. This is an experience for Cambodia," Phay Siphan said. "We congratulate South Korea for winning the seat. South Korea, just like Cambodia, wishes to contribute to world peace and stability."
In 2012, the country mourned the death of its most revered King- Father Norodom Sihanouk on Oct. 15 in Beijing.
The former king died of illness at the age of 90 and his body was returned to Cambodia by a Chinese special airplane on Oct. 17.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said the body would be cremated on Feb. 4, 2013 after lying in state for more than three months at the Royal Palace.