CAMBODIA has in recent months come under sustained criticism from many governments and civil society organisations internationally for an authoritarian crackdown on political opposition, but its Prime Minister Hun Sen still has a friend in the People’s Republic of China.
After Hun Sen visited Beijing last week to seek more aid, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Wednesday that Chinese companies have pledged to invest a further US$7 billion in the Kingdom.
According to a statement from Cambodia’s government, the investment is expected to create some 20,000 new jobs and will take place prior to a visit to the country in January by China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiung.
Hun Sen made a trip to China fresh from dissolving the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) – the only viable opposition political force – effectively making Cambodia a one-party state. He has in recent months presided over a widespread crackdown on civil society and media ahead of next year’s elections.
Western donors have increasingly pressured Cambodia over its rapid retreat from democracy.
The United States recently announced it would halt funding for the election in 2018, while an open letter to Hun Sen this week called for him to “immediately and unconditionally release” detained CNRP leader Kem Sokha.
These interventions, however, seem to have only drawn Hun Sen’s regime closer to China.
Beijing, meanwhile, has sought to extend its economic and political influence in Southeast Asia – not least through the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
“We need more bridges on the Mekong River, we also need many more roads, trains, sky trains, these are the things that we need in the future,” said Sry Thamrong, a spokesperson for Hun Sen ahead of his visit to China.
According to state news agency Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party “has blazed a new trail for other developing countries that want to modernise while preserving their independence” and aims to invite some 15,000 foreign lawmakers to China over the next five years.
It insists it will “not ask other countries to copy Chinese practice”, said President Xi Jinping during a conference in Beijing last week.