ONE of Cambodia's co-premiers sanctioned the recent signing of a controversial air
accord with Taiwan, according to a civil aviation official.
"One of the Prime Ministers gave the verbal order for us to go-ahead and sign
that memorandum of understanding," said the the State Secretariat for Civil
Aviation (SSCA) official, who requested anonymity.
"It's best for me not to say which of the two gave the order, but for us, a
verbal or written order from either of the prime ministers has to be implemented,
no questions asked."
The bi-lateral pact, signed in December between SSCA and its Taiwanese counterpart,
allows for two non-stop flights between Phnom Penh and Taipei per week to be operated
reciprocally by Cambodian and Taiwanese carriers.
But it has roused the wrath of the People's Republic of China. Beijing regards the
island-state of Taiwan as one its provinces, and sees the pact as a violation of
its sovereignty as well as of the so-called "one-China" policy that nations
with which it engages in diplomacy are supposed to respect.
Without being specific, a Chinese diplomat in Phnom Penh told the Post that China
may retaliate against the Royal Government for signing the "secret agreement."
"We will definitely take action if things take a wrong turn, because Taiwan
is an inalienable part of China," he said. "The People's Republic of China
is firmly opposed to any official agreements made between Taiwan and those countries
that have diplomatic relations with China."
Royal Air Cambodge (RAC), the Cambodian flag carrier, began regular flights to the
Chinese city of Guangzhou in November. Though not specifically threatened by the
Chinese diplomat, one option for China could be to withdraw landing rights to RAC.
But the diplomat maintained that RAC, which is partly owned by the Cambodian government,
should be prevented from flying to Taipei.
"If Phnom Penh wants to establish commercial air links with Taipei, they cannot
use a state-run airline," he said in reference to Cambodia's official 'one-China'
He went further, claiming that should EVA, the privately-owned Taiwanese carrier,
be chosen by Taipei for the runs to Pochentong airport, the SSCA in Phnom Penh would
first have to get approval from the Chinese government before EVA planes can enter
In the wake of the accord signing, both Prime Ministers, the King, and Royal Air
Cambodge have maintained that they are upholding the one-China policy.
At press time, an aide to the First Prime Minister declined to say whether Prince
Norodom Ranariddh had indeed signaled the verbal green-light.
"The Prince recognizes only one China," said Xavier d'Abzac. "But
it is important to recall that there are already international airlines that have
already opened routes to both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan."
As for the Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen was reported as saying earlier he was never
notified about the air agreement. He re-assured the Chinese Ambassador that Phnom
Penh was not wavering on its stance towards Beijing, but that, in the interest of
Cambodia's economic growth, it was important to nurture trade and investment ties
For his part, King Norodom Sihanouk, who spent many of his years in exile in Beijing,
and who travels there regularly for medical treatment, issued a statement condemning
any such departure from Cambodia's one-China policy that has been in place since
Asked whether RAC would start a non-stop service to Taipei, Vichit Ith, RAC's chairman
and chief executive officer, issued a carefully worded statement.
"As the flag carrier, we abide by the Royal Government's stance of a 'one China
policy,'" he said. "As a result, should RAC have the intention to fly to
Taipei, we will need to get the guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority of China
Business ties between Cambodia and Taiwan were formalized in late 1995 with the opening
of a Taiwan economic and cultural office in Phnom Penh.