The Khmer Times, 30 March 2017
Two events that highlight Cambodia-China bilateral relations this year are the upcoming fourth inter-governmental coordination meeting and the attendance of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing in May.
Cambodia is receptive to and supportive of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched in 2013. Cambodia is also one of the core founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was inaugurated last year.
Cambodia-China relations have been significantly enhanced since the signing of the comprehensive strategic partnership in 2010. Strategic convergence, common economic and security interests and historical and cultural affinity are the three main driving forces.
Mutual interests, mutual respect and equal partnership are the key principles and characteristics of the partnership.
Some international observers mistakenly see Cambodia-China ties by simply characterising it as a patron-client relationship, by taking into consideration the power asymmetry between two countries.
The truth is the relationship is dynamically evolving and mutually adjusted, based on trust and consultation. The alliance between the two countries is not bound by coercion, imposition or treaty, it is bound by a common vision and interests and is a natural alliance.
Cambodia is against any hegemonic power or patron-type power. Independent and neutral foreign policy is and will be the foundations of the survival and prosperity of the kingdom. It is not in Cambodia’s interest to choose sides between major powers, but to build proximate, equal partnerships with them.
Cambodia has adopted a pragmatic approach towards major powers, in which economic development and poverty reduction are the core national interest. A trust-based and rules-based international order is perceived as the cornerstone of international peace and stability.
Cambodia regards China as the most trustworthy friend, while China views Cambodia as the most reliable friend. During his state visit to Cambodia in 2016, President Xi Jinping referred to the partnership as “iron-clad friends.”
To effectively implement the strategic partnership, both countries created a joint committee –under the chairmanship of Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong – to coordinate and facilitate bilateral cooperation projects.
The fourth committee meeting will focus on infrastructure development, agriculture, culture and tourism, according to a Facebook post by Mr. Namhong on March 22.
When it comes to infrastructure development, Cambodia is interested in strengthening its transport infrastructure and connectivity, particularly the construction of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, railway, inland waterways and flight connections between the two countries, as well as implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.
Sihanoukville port and the special economic zone are the key ongoing projects under the initiative. Cambodia is interested in transforming the region into a core investment destination for Chinese enterprises and corporations.
Cambodia is seeking support from China in developing solar and clean energy and attracting Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises to invest in the rural electricity power supply.
Cooperation in the agriculture and agro-industry is also emphasized. More investment in rural development is needed, especially through the development of rural roads, the modernization of agriculture and the agro-industry.
Cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges will be further enhanced. Cambodia expects that by 2020 the number of Chinese tourist arrivals will hit two million. Tourism is the second-largest source of income generation after the garment industry.
Other areas that both countries should also work on are technological innovations and vocational training and skills development. Cambodia is diversifying its economic structure by moving towards a skill-driven industrialization and knowledge-based economy.