PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Sunday that Japan will assist Cambodia in building infrastructure and cracking down on smuggling as he met with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Kono's pledge comes as Japan aims to boost its presence by promoting "quality" infrastructure development under its "free and open" strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.
It also represents Japan's response to the increasing clout of Chinese investment in Cambodia as part of Beijing's "One Belt, One Road" regional infrastructure megaproject. Kono was on his two-day Southeast Asian trip that also took him to Laos.
"I explained that Japan will continue to extend support in the three key areas of logistics, human resource development and strengthening urban functions so Cambodia can develop further," Kono told reporters.
The visit came as the Cambodian government has been under international scrutiny for its plans to go ahead with a general election amid allegations it has suppressed opposition parties.
Kono said he asked Hun Sen to hold an election that reflects the will of the Cambodian people.
"In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia will hold a free and fair election," Kono said. In Cambodia, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is now banned from competing in the upcoming election on July 29.
Cambodia's government spokesman and senior officials told Kyodo News that Kono did not concentrate on the political situation in Cambodia and raised Japan's interest in regional issues including those on the Korean Peninsula.
Chum Sounry, spokesman for Cambodia's foreign ministry, said Kono also discussed Japan's plan to hold special commemorative summits during an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit to be held later this year in Singapore.
Earlier in the day, Kono and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn signed an agreement in which Japan will provide two renovated patrol boats to Cambodia to beef up anti-smuggling efforts.
The Japanese government will also extend yen loans of up to around 9.2 billion yen ($86 million) to Cambodia so the Southeast Asian country can build necessary infrastructure to ensure stable electricity supplies in Phnom Penh.