Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comment: Red Carpet for China's Li Peng

Comment: Red Carpet for China's Li Peng

Comment: Red Carpet for China's Li Peng



Vol. 10, No. 11

May 25th - June 7th 2001

ON May 18-20 2001, Li Peng, secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, became the latest in a series of high-ranking emissaries of the mighty Middle Kingdom to visit Cambodia.

As expected, the notorious "butcher of Tiananmen" was feted by government officials and representatives of Cambodia's ethnic Chinese community, who praised Beijing's strengthening economic ties and "ever-lasting friendship" with Phnom Penh.

Away from the red-carpet niceties of official banquets, however, the subtext of Peng's visit was as crude and direct as the line of armored personnel carriers that at Peng's directive rolled over student pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989.

Peng was the fourth high-ranking Chinese official in less than six months to land in Cambodia. In between the high-profile visits, hardly a week goes by without some PRC delegation adding a little more cement to the special relationship with more of its vaunted "no strings attached" aid and investment.

A senior ASEAN diplomat had no doubt that the Khmer Rouge law was deliberately put on hold until after the Li Peng visit to avoid embarrassing Cambodia's powerful patron.

China's special links with Cambodia date back to then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk's neutralist foreign policy in the '60s and his close friendship with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En Lai.

There have been visits by President Jiang Zemin, Defence Minister General Chi Haotian, Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng and now Li Peng.

After his May 19 meeting with Li Peng, Hun Sen, who had just requested a further $60 million in aid, heaped praise on China, claiming that "...they never interfere with a country's internal affairs" in contrast to Western donors and Japan, who have attempted to link aid to good government, respect for human rights, and military and civil service reforms.

In a 1988 essay, Hun Sen wrote "China is the root of all that is evil in Cambodia", referring both to its support of the KR regime and the $300 million Beijing annually lavished on the KR insurgency in the 1980s. It can only be assumed that at the time the prime minister was less magnanimous about China's avowed "non-interference" ethos.

On the subject of the KR tribunal, the Cambodian PM insists that "China does not talk about this issue", and that it was never discussed.