Prime Minister Hun Manet hit back at critics who deplore Cambodia’s close relationship with China and the Kingdom’s pledge to support the One China policy, pointing out that the stance is maintained by 180 other countries and even the US.

Manet’s response followed his September 17 return from his first official visit to China. During his September 14-17 trip, he met with top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping in Beijing before attending the 20th China- ASEAN Expo in Nanning, the capital city of south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Speaking to more than 18,000 factory workers in Takeo province on the morning of September 19, Manet said that during his time in China, criticisms had been levelled against him regarding his statement on the One China policy, notably from Cambodian critics who aired their opinions through a “foreign-backed radio station”.

He countered that 181 out of 193 of the UN member countries adhere to the policy, most notably the US.

“So, for Cambodia to support the policy is nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

Taiwan remains the US’ “key partner” in the Indo-Pacific, and while they do not have diplomatic relations, both maintain a “robust unofficial relationship”, according to the US Department of State.

The prime minister reiterated that he had made Cambodia’s foreign policy position clear to foreign leaders, including during the recent ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, as well as on his China visit.

“The foreign policy of the seventh-mandate government maintains continuity and consistency with the previous policy of the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP]. The policy is based on sovereignty, independence, and rules-base and smart implementation of our policies, with our own national interests as the top priority,” he said.

He added that critics had even gone so far as to criticise Cambodia’s trade with China, including his calls for increased Chinese investment in the Kingdom. He pointed out that the US and many other countries around the world are all trade partners with China. The recently concluded 20th China- ASEAN Expo was a testament to the efforts of many leaders from the regional bloc to expand their bilateral trade.

“These critics should come to ask our workers whether doing business with China is bad or not. Because we are doing business with China, there are factories here to provide jobs for you,” he told the assembled workers.

Manet offered his appreciation to the more than 50 Cambodian companies which attended the expo to boost their products abroad.

“Some people are living overseas and have never bothered to ask their own people – who actually benefit from trade with China – what they think. They should come and ask them.

“If you don’t trust the government, ask the people and business community whether trading with China is bad or not,” he said.

Manet also allayed allegations that Cambodia’s closeness to China could make the country lose its independence. He said the Kingdom knows exactly how to deal with this, stressing that he would never allow his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren to lose their identity.

The premier affirmed that when trading or making friends with any other countries, independence must be protected.

“No country should copy the model of any other country and attempt to implement it in their own nation,” he said.

“We have the rights to do whatever we need to do for the sake of our own national interests, and our Khmer model. We travel abroad, but we do not copy any model from any country. We must adhere to our Khmer identity,” he explained.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the points that Manet had raised regarding foreign policy demonstrate Cambodia’s commitment to neutrality, non-alliance and living in peaceful co-existence with all countries around the world.

“His foreign policy places national interests on top, while protecting peace, political stability, development and our pride on the international stage. This makes Cambodia’s role – in the region and internationally – a stronger one,” he said.

“Adhering to this policy makes the Kingdom proud of its status as a sovereign state, with the same rights and status of any other nation,” he added.