The past year saw bilateral relations between Cambodia and China continue to develop on a positive trajectory, with at least 10 important new agreements signed, according to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.
In a press statement, the embassy noted that seven of the 10 agreements were on military cooperation in areas such as the strategic relationship between their armed forces, training assistance and training exercises involving both militaries, and the provision of equipment and weapons to Cambodia.
The Chinese army provided security equipment and vehicles for use at the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting in the Kingdom, and also plans to assist with the construction of buildings on the compound of the Army Institute of Cambodia.
China has also provided assistance to support the project to improve the Ream Naval Base facility located on Cambodia’s southern coast. The embassy said the assistance demonstrated a commitment by the Chinese navy to assisting the Kingdom with the modernisation of its naval forces.
San Chey, executive director of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said that though the diplomacy and international relations between Cambodia and China are an “ironclad” friendship with a strong foundation of support in each nation, their political systems are in fact quite opposite to each other in many ways. He explained that Cambodia was founded as a liberal democracy with political pluralism based on its Constitution and the rule of law, whereas China adopted communism long ago.
He added that this has therefore led to the worry on the part of some that China’s influence on Cambodia would turn it into a one-party state with no rights or freedoms.
“At the international level, we don’t object to having very close or ironclad friends, but what we want to see is that we prevent China from increasing its political influence on Cambodia to the point that it affects democracy here,” he said.
The embassy noted that in 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping had discussed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen on the phone.
The first expressway in Cambodia was built by a Chinese state construction company using loans and financing from China and began operation in 2022, cutting the travel time from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville down to two hours from five on National Road 4 previously.
Other diplomatic exchanges and visits of note included King Norodom Sihamoni attending the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in China and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visiting Cambodia, as well as a group of Chinese leaders attending the Leaders’ Meetings on East Asia Cooperation hosted by the Kingdom.
The embassy added that in 2022, Cambodia also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and the 10th anniversary of his passing, which was also observed at events honouring his memory in China, where he was a frequent visitor and guest.