Following his decision last week not to evacuate Cambodians in China, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said he would go to the Chinese city at the epicentre of a viral pandemic if granted permission by Chinese authorities.

Talking to Cambodian migrant workers living in South Korea, the prime minister said he would be happy to travel to Wuhan city, where the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) originated, to express solidarity with the Chinese people.

His remarks followed comments by critics challenging him to visit Cambodian students stranded in the central Chinese city.

“Hun Sen dares to fight the war. He dares to rescue the nation. Hun Sen dares to risk his life to end the war. Why wouldn’t Hun Sen dare to go to Wuhan city to visit Cambodian students? You don’t know what Hun Sen is capable of, so don’t dare him,” he said.

There have been more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 361 deaths in mainland China. Outside China, there are more than 150 confirmed cases, as well as one death, in the Philippines.

Last week, Hun Sen said his government would not cancel flights to and from China, arguing that such a move would amount to economic suicide for the Kingdom.

In the same speech, he announced that Cambodian students and diplomatic officials in China will not be evacuated, stressing that Cambodia must stand by China in happiness and sorrow.

The announcement drew some criticism on social media, but was praised by Chinese officials. Wang Wentian, the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia, lauded the Cambodian prime minister’s decision.

On Sunday, Wang told reporters that Cambodia was a “steel friend,” willing to share the good and the bad times. Together, the two countries will overcome the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

“Only when the wind is strong, do we know the strength of the grass. Only during difficult times, do we know our true friends.

“Samdech Techo Hun Sen recently made a nationally televised speech in which he said the Cambodian government and the Cambodian people stand by the Chinese government and its people amid the spread of the new virus. Cambodia is a true friend willing to share our pain and joy,” he said.

Political analyst Em Sovannara told The Post that Hun Sen made the right call when he decided not to close air traffic to China. He said cancelling flights could strain commercial and diplomatic ties with the East Asian giant.

However, the decision not to evacuate Cambodians in China could prove unpopular, Sovannara said.

“I think not evacuating our citizens in Wuhan puts the burden squarely on the shoulders on the Chinese governments. The Cambodians that are in Wuhan are not technicians that can help the Chinese people during this pandemic.

“I don’t support the prime minister’s decision because our citizens in Wuhan don’t have the means to protect themselves. Evacuating the students and officials would have reduced the likelihood of them contracting the virus,” he said.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport said there are now 23 Cambodian students in Wuhan.

The first case of coronavirus infection in Cambodia was reported last week.

A Chinese man who had travelled from Wuhan city to Sihanoukville checked into a local hospital with flu-like symptoms. He tested positive for the virus and was put in isolation.

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