China-Cambodia relationship scales new heights
Published: Jan 21, 2019 08:47 PM
Among its relations with ASEAN countries, the China-Cambodia relationship is the most stable. The China-Cambodia comprehensive strategic partnership, established in 2010, has been nurtured with deepening economic ties and practical cooperation in all fields. The ongoing visit of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to China, his first overseas trip of 2019, will mark another milestone in  bilateral relations.

With an increasing Chinese economic presence in Cambodia and the two countries growing ever closer, the West has constantly made an issue of the China-Cambodia relationship. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has led Cambodia for over three decades, has been accused of pushing the country into an authoritarian state and risking Phnom Penh becoming a vassal state of China in exchange for Beijing's support for his rule. 

But an indisputable fact is that under the leadership of Hun Sen, the past two decades have witnessed Cambodia's economy grow at slightly over 7 percent and the country made a remarkable transition from a low-income to a lower-middle-income country in 2016. Continued rapid economic growth and improved people's living standards have propped up Hun Sen's popularity. 

The political evolution of Cambodia under the Hun Sen government over the past years is an internal matter. It's a choice of the Cambodian people and China has no intention of intervening. Unlike Western countries pointing fingers at the politics of the Southeast Asian nation and threatening sanctions, China respects and supports the development path chosen by the Cambodian people, developing relations with Cambodia on the basis of mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation. 

Chinese investment and assistance have played an important role in helping sustain Cambodia's economic progress. Statistics show that Chinese investment by late 2017 reached $12.5 billion, about 36 percent of all investment in the country. Aid provided by China reaches around $250 million a year, much of which has gone to infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, irrigation and electrical transmission, totally in line with the country's development needs. Now China is Cambodia's biggest investor and trading partner.

Besides deepened economic ties, the two countries have supported each other in many international and regional issues of common interest, enhanced people-to-people exchanges and strengthened cooperation on maritime security. 

It's fair to say the China-Cambodia relationship featuring pragmatic, high-quality and high-level cooperation has set an example for regional state-to-state relations. China attaches importance to long-term cooperation with Cambodia and other ASEAN countries. This is China's basic and long-term strategy and will not change due to changes in the country's internal politics.

Looking forward, China should strengthen cooperation with Cambodia, increase investment in the country and support the Cambodian government in accelerating the economic and social development of the country. Both countries need to maintain the strong momentum, making bilateral relations continue to bear fruit amid the Western brouhaha.

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