Cambodia cashes in on China’s New Silk Road initiative
Share this on

Cambodia cashes in on China’s New Silk Road initiative

Money, guns, human resources, ambulances, surveillance equipment, military trucks, helicopters, computers and training. It seems Cambodia can have it all from China, Asia’s largest economy and the second largest in the world.

After visiting China to attend  a dialogue on strengthening APEC cooperation, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen returned late last week with news of hundreds of millions of dollars of financial support from China and the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries.

Cambodian officials called last week’s trip a “fruitful visit”.

China has agreed to give donations and loans to Cambodia worth at least US$500 million per year to help the impoverished country to develop its infrastructure and economy, said Kao Kim Hourn, a minister attached to the prime minister.

So far this year, Hun Sen has visited China three times.

China has been gradually increasing donations and military support to Cambodia in recent years, and strengthening its influence.

In 2010, the U.S. canceled its shipment of 200 military trucks and trailers promised to Cambodia after the Southeast Asian country sent 20 Chinese Uighur asylum seekers back to China despite objections from the U.S. and the United Nations.

Two days after Uighur’s deportation, Cambodia singed 14 deals with China worth more than US$1 billion, the New York Times reported. More than 250 military vehicles and 50,000 military uniforms were provided to Cambodia by China after the U.S.’s military aid cancelation.

In April 2012, ahead of Cambodia’s chairing of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, former Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Hun Sen to pledge a doubling of bilateral trade to US$5 billion within 5 years. Chinese officials also said they would provide US$70 million in loans to Cambodia.

Cambodian leaders at the time agreed to limit the scope of discussions at the summit, notably keeping the South China Sea issue off the agenda.

Later the same year in July, a summit of ASEAN foreign ministers held in Phnom Penh was overshadowed by the South China Sea issue, parts of which are claimed by China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei. In the end, the members were unable to form a unified voice on the subject, which said little for ASEAN cooperation and foreign policy.

Political analyst said at the time that China was trying to influence and pressure Cambodia to protect its political interests.

In February last year China gave 26 military trucks and 30,000 sets of military uniforms to Cambodia. China gave 1,000 handguns with 50,000 bullets to Cambodia’s National Police in August 2013. Later, in November, China completed its sale of a dozen Chinese-built Z-9 military helicopters worth nearly US$200 million, which will be paid off by the Cambodian government over time.

In May this year, China donated US$112 million and gave US$33 million in concession loans to the Cambodian government. Hun Sen claimed loan was offered to help Cambodia with the hosting of the 2023 Southeast Asian Games.

China has raised US$40 billion to set up its Silk Road Fund aimed at developing the infrastructures of its Asian neighbors, with a view to developing cooperation and trade.

Not surprisingly, Hun Sen has shown strong support for Chinese President Xi Jingping’s initiative.

“The prime minister stressed his support for China regarding the creation of the investment bank for Asia infrastructure, the Silk Road Fund,” said Kim Hourn.

China has also promised to help Cambodia’s economy by assisting with export of rice to China, and further visits by the countries’ two leaders are expected in the near future.

“[The Chinese] government has announced that this is not a competition, but it is a new mechanism to support Asia’s economies, especially to developing countries as they want to develop infrastructure. We want a lot of capital, so China has new policy to support developing countries in Asia continent,” said Kim Hourn.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his delegation traveled to Burma (Myanmar) Tuesday to attend the 25th ASEAN Summit and other meetings in capital Nay Pyi Taw. It will be interesting to see whether he will be pushing China’s agenda there.