Xi Jinping’s Visit to Cambodia

The Khmer Times, 7 October 2016

Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay a historic state visit to Cambodia this month to further deepen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries, which was signed six years ago.
During his visit to Cambodia in 2009 as the vice-president of China, Mr. Xi stated:
“Furthering relations with Cambodia has long been China’s consistent policy.”
He called China-Cambodia relations “a good example of sincere cooperation between countries with different social systems.”
After years of tensions in the South China Sea, Cambodia has emerged to be the most reliable friend of China. Cambodia’s view and position on the South China Sea issue are welcomed by China.
Local and international observers share the view that Cambodia is now China’s closest ally in Southeast Asia and China is Cambodia’s most important strategic and development partner.
Cambodian leaders have praised China for the “unconditional” development aid and the role of China in socio-economic development.
Early this year, China committed $600 million in aid to the Kingdom.
However, some Cambodian analysts have raised cautious optimism of Sino-Cambodian ties. In his recent commentary, Var Veasna, a senior research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, suggested that “Cambodia should be cautious when it comes to Chinese aid.”
China has provided more than $3 billion in loans and grants to Cambodia since 1992.
In the last few years, Cambodia has received remarkable military and defense assistance from China, including military equipment, modern weapons, training and a soft loan to purchase 12 Chinese Harbin Z-9 helicopters.
The visit takes place amid political tensions and uncertainties in Cambodia. It may send a misleading signal to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party  that China stands with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to maintain peace and development.
Mr. Xi’s visit might be read as a warning signal to the US and its allies that China is here to stay, to protect the legitimacy of Hun Sen’s regime regardless of changing global geopolitics.
Cambodia has been under mounting pressure from the international community with regards to human rights abuses, democracy and justice issues.
The killing of well-known political analyst Kem Ley has drawn international attention and criticism.
The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, said: “Without genuine conciliatory efforts by the two main political parties…the situation of human rights in Cambodia could well deteriorate further in the months ahead.”
Human rights and democracy, of course, are not the main elements in China’s foreign policy.
China strictly adheres to the principle of non-inference and firmly believes that each country has its own conditions for its own development path.
During the upcoming state visit, Mr. Xi will likely commit more development assistance to Cambodia, further promote bilateral trade and investment, deepen tourism cooperation and strengthen people-to-people ties.
Infrastructure development and regional connectivity will be likely on the agenda of the bilateral summit between Mr. Xi and Mr. Hun Sen.
China’s two main regional initiatives, the “Belt and Road” and “Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism,” will be highlighted as China is taking a leading role in promoting a community of shared destiny through forging win-win cooperation and promoting an open and inclusive international economic system.

Expanding the market for agricultural products is one of the core ingredients of Cambodia’s foreign economic policy.
In 2010, the government set a vision to export one million tons of milled rice. But the rice policy failed due to the lack of capital and market information as well as poor coordination among relevant stakeholders.
China is an emerging market for Cambodian rice producers and exporters.
From next year, China will double its rice imports from Cambodia at 200,000 tons annually.
Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong last month urged China to speed up policy implementation in order to stabilize Cambodia’s rice sector.
Amid the plummeting rice price, which led to a protest by farmers in Battambang province last month, Cambodia has turned to China for support.
Cambodia has requested $300 million from China to support a rice subsidy scheme. Mr. Xi might positively respond to the request during his upcoming visit.
Tourism is the second-largest income generator after the garment industry. China is the largest source of tourist arrivals to Cambodia.
It is estimated that the number of Chinese tourists to Cambodia will hit one million this year and two million by 2020.

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