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Cambodia and China reassert strategic ties

Chheang Vannarith / Khmer Times Share:
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh in October last year. Reuters

Amid mounting international pressure by the US and its allies, the Cambodian government has opted for deepening its strategic ties with China with the hope to resist potential diplomatic and economic sanctions.

China, generally perceived as the main source of regime legitimisation for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), is largely perceived as the most important strategic and economic partner that can offer full assistance to the kingdom in any circumstances.

Cambodia-China comprehensive strategic partnership, established in 2013, has been nurtured with deepened economic ties and strong political security cooperation and coordination.

As both countries are preparing to commemorate their 60th anniversary next year, more concrete results will be delivered and strategic action plans are being drafted. A new era of special comprehensive strategic partnership will be launched.

Cambodia is China’s closest ally in Southeast Asia. Both countries have earned each other’s political and strategic trust, while supporting each other’s core national interests.

Regardless of being accused as a client state or a proxy state of China, Cambodia has consistently pursued its position on the South China Sea, which is largely in line with China’s view that the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea need to be resolved by the direct claimant states.

The China-Asean mechanism is just a regional tool to promote mutual trust, understanding and cooperation. Asean as an inter-governmental organisation does not have a mandate to resolve sovereignty disputes either between its member states or between the Asean members and other countries.

At the bilateral summit between Prime Minister Hun Sen and President Xi Jinping last week, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advancing their partnership.

Mr Xi told his Cambodian counterpart that the Chinese government regards the bilateral partnership from a long-term strategic perspective.

Mr Hun Sen regards China a trustworthy and close friend of Cambodia, while calling for further enhancement of the partnership.

China promised to help Cambodia develop infrastructure under the Belt and Road initiative. The construction of the expressway linking capital Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville province is one of the main infrastructure projects.

China will also support Cambodia in its demining efforts. Recently, there was a diplomatic rift between Cambodia and the US with regards to unexploded ordinances.

China has reaffirmed its unwavering support to Cambodia in maintaining peace and political stability and resisting against foreign intervention.

Mr Xi called for stronger bilateral coordination in multilateral mechanisms, including the United Nations, Asean-driven regional cooperation mechanisms, and Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC).

Cambodia will host the second LMC Leaders’ Meeting early next year. The LMC was initiated by China in 2015 to promote sub-regional cooperation and integration among six countries in the Mekong sub-region, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Last year, China committed $1.54 billion in preferential loans and a credit line of $10 billion to support infrastructure and production capacity projects of the LMC countries.

China has offered to share governance experience with Cambodia, particularly in relation to the governing of the political party and the state.

China is projecting its global power status with a clear vision and strategic plans. Its soft power has been promoted through economic and cultural diplomacy, and likely also the promotion of a governance model with Chinese characteristics.

Cambodia’s worldview has been shaped by domestic politics and the rise of China. The Cambodian ruling elites have a strong conviction that Asia will be led by China. Therefore, standing together will serve their long-term interests.

In terms of prospects, Cambodia-China ties will be significantly enhanced from next year with concrete results and action plans. Both countries will launch a detailed work plan under the new framework of special comprehensive strategic partnership.

The flow of Chinese capital and tourists will increase. China has invested about $15 billion. Cambodia is expected to welcome two million Chinese tourists by 2020.

Chheang Vannarith is a Southeast Asia analyst based in Singapore and Cambodia.

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