Prime Minister Hun Manet is leading a delegation to the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, China, where he is expected to reiterate Cambodia’s commitment to supporting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and continued close cooperation with China.

Accompanying the prime minister are Deputy Prime Minister and first vice-chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) Sun Chanthol and foreign minister Sok Chenda Sophea, along with several other key government officials and business leaders.

Manet left the Kingdom on October 16 to attend the two-day forum, scheduled for October 17-18, held under the theme: “High-quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Together for Common Development and Prosperity”.

In an October 14 press release, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Manet will deliver a keynote address on the “Digital Economy as a New Source of Growth”. On the sidelines of the forum, he will also hold meetings with President Xi Jinping and other members of the Chinese leadership to discuss cooperation under bilateral and multilateral frameworks.

He will also engage in separate discussions with other foreign dignitaries.

“[Manet’s] participation in the forum reaffirms Cambodia’s support for the BRI and underscores its commitment to collaborating closely with China to advance high-quality cooperation for shared growth, peace, and sustainable development, in the region and beyond,” said the press release.

Meas Sophorn, spokesman for the Prime Minister, confirmed that Manet will meet with Xi and Chinese Premier Li Qiang. He has also scheduled working meetings with Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong, Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith, and several key representatives from the private sector.

Seun Sam, a policy researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, expressed optimism about the visit and noted the importance of the forum, describing the BRI as playing a crucial role in contributing to Cambodia’s development, especially through infrastructure project. Manet’s participation shows Cambodia’s willingness to engage on the international stage, he added.

The forum aims to promote trade and create new markets, while this year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI.

“This forum will be very helpful for Cambodia. What the government needs to do is ensure that the BRI is used appropriately. Misusing or mismanaging loans would be a mistake, but if the loans are used to build high-quality infrastructure, it will help promote the Cambodian economy,” he said.

He added that Cambodia should take the opportunity to demonstrate its diplomatic ability to the more than 160 countries that are set to attend the forum, as the Kingdom can make friends and enhance friendly relations with its existing allies.

Seng Vanly, a regional political observer and lecturer of international relations, said the 3rd BRI forum aims to boost economic development and connectivity between countries along the “Chinese Silk Road” from Asia to Europe and Africa through harnessing the potential of partner countries, for example infrastructure connectivity investment through railways, expressways, ports and energy supply systems.

“These projects have helped improve connectivity both in individual countries and with their neighbours. They have also created domestic job opportunities. This initiative has the potential to increase trade and investment between Cambodia and several other countries, via the trade routes,” he said.

However, he raised concerns that as the BRI focuses mainly on strengthening cooperation with China, it could cause an inter-governmental reform crisis, or problems with the transparency of managing projects that may cause a long-term impact, especially a potential debt crisis. In addition, “over-reliance” on China could cause geopolitical tensions with superpower countries, as some had suggested China has harnessed the BRI to expand its influence.

In an editorial titled “Ushering in a new chapter of China-Cambodia ironclad friendship”, released on October 14, Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian explained how over the past decade the BRI has contributed to the development and improvement of the lives of people around the world, investing in more than 3,000 projects worth about $ 1 trillion.

He added that Cambodia was the first friendly nation to support China’s BRI, and in 2016 the two countries signed a BRI-related cooperation document that helped increase Cambodian-Chinese people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges, as well as cooperation in education, tourism, healthcare and more. He was optimistic that under the “strategic leadership” of the two governments, the mutual benefits enjoyed by both will increase.

The first BRI forum was held in 2017, with the second taking place in 2019.