COMMENTARY: Perspective on Cambodia-China Relations

AKP Phnom Penh, January 13, 2020 —

With regard to Cambodia-China relations, I would like to recall a historic event when Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk met for the first time with then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai during the Asian-African Conference or Bandung Conference in Bandung city of Indonesia in April 1955. The meeting paved the way for the exchanges of visits by the two leaders in 1956, subsequently leading to the establishment of official diplomatic relations between Cambodia and China on July 19, 1958. Ever since, the historic diplomatic ties, jointly built by the late King Sihanouk and Chairman Mao Zedong, have been strengthened continuously by senior Cambodian and Chinese leaders. Over the last decades, leaders of the two countries have worked hard to strengthen friendship and overcome obstacles to lead their countries and people to have development, prosperity and happiness. Clearly evident, Prime Minister Hun Sen has paid 19 official visits to China since 1999.

Cambodia-China’s enhanced co-operation and friendship culminated in the establishment of “Cambodia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation” on December 13, 2010. The implementation of this agreement has enabled Cambodia-China diplomatic ties to become strong as iron.

During the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on November 18, 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the building of human community with a shared future, and he initiated the policies of peaceful development and community of shared future of mankind, a strategic political pathway to create peace and development for all peoples based on the principles of peaceful co-existence, win-win cooperation, peaceful partnership and sustainable development.

Within this new framework, when Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the second “Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” in April 2019, Cambodia and China signed the Action Plan on Building China-Cambodia Community of Shared Future (2019–2023) in order to promote the Cambodia-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation closer, stronger and more effective, as well as to add more political values to high level of cooperation.

Under this Action Plan, the two countries will put more efforts to strengthen the cooperation and push for a more comprehensive and stronger Cambodia-China relations in political security, economy, commerce, socio-cultural tourism, environment and especially the cooperation between their younger generations based on the principles of respect for sovereignty, mutual independence, equality and win-win cooperation.
Regarding the signing of the Action Plan, some great powers disseminated false information through a media outlet alleging Cambodia of signing a secret deal with China, allowing the Chinese military to exclusively use Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. Prime Minister Hun Sen considered the fabricated news as the worst intention against Cambodia to advance their own geopolitics interests. There is no such a thing of a Chinese military base in Cambodia, as the presence of a foreign military base is against the Cambodian Constitution. Why does Cambodia need the Chinese military on its soil? In fact, there has not been such a discussion between the Chinese and Cambodian leaders, let alone signing of such an agreement. Cambodia’s foreign policy firmly adheres to the principle of having good cooperation and friendship with all countries and welcomes investments from all countries.

Reforms and rapid growth in all sectors of China have benefited not only Chinese people per se, but also other peoples in the world. China may become the world’s leader in technologies and innovation by 2050. It seeks to accomplish its two 100-year goals, to build a medium prosperous society in all sectors by 2021 and to continue to build a modern, prosperous, strong, democratic socialist China by 2049. The two goals have already been being planned and implemented by the Chinese leaders.

China’s development has been contributing to the economic and social development of Cambodia and other countries in the region and the world. Clearly, China has put its initiative called the “Belt and Road Initiative” into actions by establishing the “Silk Road Fund” and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in order to strengthen partnership and to push for a win-win development among countries linked to the Belt and Road Initiative through physical infrastructure, institutions, peoples, trade, finance, and cultural cooperation.

2018 marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the official diplomatic relations between Cambodia and China. China has become one of Cambodia’s major trading partners, and the top donor of development aid to the Kingdom. China has been ranked as the top foreign investor and the largest source of tourists to the Kingdom. Moreover, this country has thus far become the largest scholarship grantor to Cambodia.

In 2018, bilateral trade volume reached US$6.6 billion, meeting the target (planned for 2020) two years earlier. The two sides have set a new target to push the turnover to US$10 billion by 2023. With this new target, Cambodia and China started negotiating their FTA agreement in December 2019. The volume of Chinese investment in Cambodia between 1994 and 2019 accounted for US$21 billion. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia have increased to 2,024,443, reaching the targeted figure (planned for 2 million by 2020) two years earlier.

In general, the current Cambodia-China relations has been shaped by their fine traditions, history and the principles of equality and mutual trust for mutual interests. Cambodia strictly adheres to “One China Policy”, while China firmly respects Cambodia’s independence and national sovereignty.

Besides the cooperation at the bilateral level, Cambodia and China have cooperated, and we continue to cooperate under various regional and international frameworks, such as the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) and other regional and international forums particularly under the framework of the United Nations. Our two countries fully uphold multilateralism, especially the multilateral trading system, whereby the World Trade Organisation is the core driver for promoting international relations based on the principles of mutual respects, equity, and win-win cooperation for the sake of realising the community of shared future of mankind. Cambodia-China ties will definitely move towards a community of shared future, where the two countries and peoples grow together in harmony.

By Chhiv Yiseang
Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia