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Cambodia-China: A partnership withstanding the test of time

Anith Adilah Othman / Khmer Times Share:

The Kingdom of Cambodia and the People’s Republic of China have long maintained a strong bilateral relationship that goes beyond trade and diplomatic matters. These ties reportedly date back to the 13th century when Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan spent one year visiting the Kingdom of Angkor.

Zhou, who was also known as his Khmer name Chiv Ta Koan, went on to record some of the most prolific observance of life in the Khmer Kingdom between 1296 to 1297 in his book entitled “A Record of Cambodia, The Land and its People”. His works have since been translated into various languages including French and English.

More than 700 years later, the relationships between the two countries kept on propelling higher, especially during the reign of the late King Sihanouk. The leader was known as a dear friend of the former Premier Zhou Enlai and also of China.

After the 1970 coup which saw his removal as the Cambodian Head of State, the late King took up residence in state guesthouses at Beijing, China and Pyongyang, North Korea until 1975.

Even after his return to Kingdom – then as the sovereign again – the late King Sihanouk was known to make many more visits to China for various reasons including medical, leisure and state affairs. Describing the nature of the late King’s fondness of China, one of the former Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia had reportedly said: “Sihanouk himself is a banner of the friendly relations between China and Cambodia.”

The late King’s nostalgic sentiment towards the People’s Republic is evident in one of the compositions he penned dubbed ‘Nostalgia of China’, which sings praises about Beijing’s efforts in defending Cambodia’s “equality, independence and freedom.”

Parts of the lyrics read: “You are a great power, moving to the top with supremacy…. you know how to act humble and treat us without discrimination.”

A talented thespian and musician, the late King Sihanouk had also written many other songs such as ‘Miss China’ and ‘China, My Second Homeland’.

After the late King’s passing in 2012, the relationship between the two nations continued to bloom under the administration of successor, King Norodom Sihamoni, and Prime Minister Mr Hun Sen. Political analysts observed that Cambodia has since placed heavier importance on the economic benefits of its friendship with China.

When the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was first mooted in 2013, Cambodia was one of the first countries to express firm support, as the Kingdom views it as the right step towards a stronger Asean-China relationship. Today, China is the biggest investor in the Kingdom. According to Chinese state media, China has invested $12.6 billion in foreign direct investment by the end of 2017. In 2016 alone, Chinese investment capital was $1.05 billion, mainly in such areas as the garment industry, hydropower, rice milling, rubber plantation and processing, mining and construction.

Between July 2001 to June 2018, China has also provided a total of $5.27 billion in financial aid to Cambodia, while also becoming its biggest trade partner reaching $7.39billion in 2018. The figure was a 28 per cent increase from the previous year.

With over 100 direct flights from China to Cambodia, the number of Chinese tourists to the Kingdom has increased from 700,000 in 2015 to more than two million 2018 and is expected to reach five million by 2025.

In the field of military, China has granted non-refundable assistance for training, shelters, health, engineering and transportation to Cambodia. It was also reported that Royal Cambodian Armed Forces personnel have been accepted by China for training purposes.

Meanwhile, from 2004 to 2019, more than 2,000 government scholarships have been offered to Cambodian students for a chance to pursue tertiary education in China, with even more fellowships granted for short-term courses.

The year 2018 also witnessed another significant milestone with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Cambodia diplomatic

ties. Commemorated with a gala dinner in Phnom Penh, leaders of both nations expressed

wishes tomaintainthe momentum of bilateral relations across sectors.

This year, diplomatic visits were very fruitful with both parties confirming the ties are at an ‘all-time high’. In January, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid a visit to Cambodia where he pledged to increase rice imports, expanding trade volume and granting nearly $600 million in aid.

In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen has signed a number of agreements during his attendance at the annual Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China. They include the Action Plan 2019-2023 on Building China-Cambodia Comm-unity of Shared Future and the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation under Grant Aid.

During the same official visit, Mr Hun Sen had also praised China on the progress of BRI, which has been implemented over the last six years, adding that it has brought along fruitful cooperation for the region and the globe.

“This is in the context of physical infrastructure, trade and investment, as well as in the context of progress in cultural exchange between peoples by way of trade, tourism, and technology.”

Senior fellow and member of the Board of Directors of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI) Cheunboran Chanborey believed that BRI’s success story in Cambodia will further promote Cambodia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. He added: “This will serve as a role model of the modern relationship between a great power and a small state based on the principles of equal sovereignty, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.”

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