Relations between the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Republic of Indonesia have been witnessing immense activity since September 2017 thanks to the efforts of one man.
He is none other than Cambodia’s Ambassador to Indonesia – Hor Nambora.
The activity has led to a golden era in bilateral relations, with immense cooperation in the economic, political, security and cultural fields.
It is not an exaggeration to say that prior to 2017, not many people were aware of the identity of the Cambodian Ambassador. For reasons unknown, several Cambodian ambassadors maintained a low profile and were media-shy.
With his unique down-to-earth personality, Ambassador Nambora is ubiquitous in Indonesia and engaged in huge public diplomacy. He easily mingled with members of the media, officials, scholars, lawmakers and businesspeople. He changed the way the Cambodian Embassy in Indonesia worked.
Coincidentally, the Indonesian Ambassador to Cambodia Sudirman Haseng, who has been in the post since February 2018, is also very active in promoting bilateral ties. There has been good synergy, cooperation and friendship between Nambora and Sudirman.
The efforts of both ambassadors yielded massive results in many fields.
The bilateral trade jumped to a record high of US$661.11 million in 2019 from $452.19 million in 2016. Though the trade balance has been heavily in favor of Indonesia for many years, Nambora made efforts to introduce Cambodian products to Indonesian consumers.
“Since my coming to Jakarta, I have sought to boost bilateral trade. But my mission is to increase Cambodian exports to Indonesia to reduce Indonesia’s trade surplus in whatever quantity,” Nambora told this author recently in Jakarta.
As a result, Cambodian exports to Indonesia surged to $42.59 million in 2019, a significant increase from $25.37 million in 2016. Cambodia mainly exports apparel, rice, rubber and footwear to Indonesia while importing drugs, food and beverages, motorcycles and personal care products from Indonesia.
Nambora aggressively briefed Indonesian investors about Cambodia’s fast-growing economy and potential.
“We have around $350 million Indonesian investments in Cambodia. I want to invite more Indonesian investors to invest in Cambodia,” Nambora said.
The biggest breakthrough came last year when Indonesia’s low-cost carrier Citilink launched a direct flight route between Jakarta and Phnom Penh.
“It was the greatest gift to mark the 60 years of friendly relations between Indonesia and Cambodia. Air connectivity is vital for boosting economic ties and people-to-people contacts,” said Nambora.
Both countries celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in 2019 with several business, cultural and sports activities.
Sixty-one years ago, Cambodia and Indonesia established their diplomatic relations by signing the historical Treaty of Friendship on Feb. 13, 1959, in Jakarta.
Indonesia, a G20 member economy and the de facto leader of ASEAN, has been a good friend of Cambodia for several decades. In the past, Indonesia played a key role in the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which brought peace and prosperity to Cambodia.
The world’s biggest archipelagic state also strongly supported Cambodia’s entry into ASEAN in 1999.
Likewise, Cambodia extended its full support to Indonesia at international organizations.
Nambora is an honest, humble and adept diplomat who always uses his trademark down-to-earth diplomacy and unconventional methods to achieve his main objectives.
In an effort to enhance friendship and personal rapport between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, Nambora convinced the Cambodian government that Hun Sen must attend the inauguration of Widodo’s second presidential term, given the strategic importance of Indonesia. Hun Sen was present at Widodo’s inauguration on Oct. 20, 2019, in Jakarta. It was a huge success for Cambodia’s diplomacy.
Nambora is the first Cambodian diplomat to write a book in English about his experiences in diplomacy, which he gained during his three decades-long distinguished career in four continents. Nambora’s book titled The Journey of a Down-to-Earth Diplomat, a masterpiece about down-to-earth diplomacy, was published late last year.
Nambora, who speaks fluent Khmer, English and French, is an avid reader and loves tennis, swimming and horse riding.
He is also a great patriot. He went out of the diplomatic way to disrupt a press conference by Cambodia’s fugitive opposition politician Mo Sochua in Jakarta on Nov. 6, 2019. He instantly became the most sought-after ambassador in both local and international media.
“It was not proper as a diplomat. But I became angry and upset as a Cambodian citizen. How can a fugitive, who had an arrest warrant against her, have an international press conference publicly?” Nambora said.
As a humble person, he immediately apologized for his behavior. He was also successful in diminishing the impact of Sam Rainsy’s visit, another fugitive and leader of the legally-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, in Jakarta on Nov. 14.
Rainsy received a red carpet welcome in Malaysia just two days prior to his Jakarta visit. But contrary to his expectations, he did not receive a proper response from neither the Indonesian media nor officials for his campaign. This was all due to Nambora’s firm actions.
No Cambodian ambassador had ever done what Nambora did by challenging illegal opposition leaders on foreign land.
Despite all his achievements in Indonesia, Nambora will be retiring from diplomatic service. He is now 63 years old. Although the retirement age in Cambodia is 60 years, in the case of ambassadors, the government has the discretion to extend their diplomatic careers irrespective of this rule. Nambora should have ended his tenure in Indonesia after another one or two years. There are also many active Cambodian diplomats who are much older than him.
“After 30 exciting months in amazing Indonesia, my tenure has come to an end. I would like to bid farewell and thank all my friends and colleagues in Indonesia,” Nambora said.
“It has been an honor to serve my country and conclude my diplomatic career in this great country on such a high note.”
It is unfortunate to see the Cambodian government let Nambora go along with his talents, skills and rich experiences.
Nambora, the second son of Cambodia’s famous former foreign minister Hor Namhong, joined the Foreign Service in 1988. Since then, he has served his country in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. He also served as the Cambodian Ambassador to Australia, the United Kingdom, the African Union and Indonesia for 21 years.
Asked about his future plans, Nambora said that he wants to take some rest first.
“I am not sure what I will do in the future, but first, I want to take some rest. Later, I will think about what I should do,” Nambora said.
According to Nambora, Indonesia has a bright future and an excellent President.
“Under President Widodo, Indonesia will progress rapidly. As rising economies, both Indonesia and Cambodia must establish a strategic partnership. That is my wish,” Nambora said.