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Prime Minister to lead delegation at BRI forum

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Banners are displayed along a street on Monday ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. WANG ZHAO/AFP

Prime Minister to lead delegation at BRI forum

Prime Minister Hun Sen is to lead eight ministers to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing from Friday to Monday, with a number of agreements expected to be signed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said on Monday that Hun Sen will attend the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) meeting in the Chinese capital with a delegation that includes three deputy prime ministers and five ministers.

Hun Sen is to “deliver an address on the forum’s theme – Belt and Road Cooperation: Shaping a Brighter Shared Future. He will also share his perspectives on the theme Boosting Connectivity to Explore New Sources of Growth”, the ministry said on Monday.

It said the prime minister will have separate meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, as well Wang Huning, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China.

He is also due to meet Li Yong of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido).

“A number of documents on Chinese assistance and cooperation projects are expected to be signed during this visit,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Hun Sen will also attend the opening ceremony of the International Horticultural Exposition 2019 and inaugurate Cambodia’s national pavilion. He is set be awarded the title “Honorary Professor of International Relations” by Beijing University.

Analysts have expressed differing views as to the impact of China’s BRI on the Kingdom.

‘Staunch supporter of BRI’

Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, said the second Belt and Road Forum would be “another milestone in concretising international cooperation and partnership and practical project implementation of BRI”.

He said Cambodia was a staunch supporter of BRI as it could contribute to the realisation of Cambodia’s development vision and compliment the Kingdom’s “rectangular strategy”.

“Cambodia expects to see more investment flows from China to Cambodia, especially in infrastructure development and skills development. Digital economy is another area of interest. Linking the digital Silk Road with Cambodia’s digital economy is critical,” he said.

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said Beijing would “continue to reward Cambodia by extending diplomatic and political support, continued economic engagement, aid, trade and investment, and defence cooperation”.

In a piece published on Thayer Consultancy last Tuesday, he said bilateral cooperation between BRI and the Cambodian government’s rectangular strategy was extensive and extended across seven key sectors – infrastructure, agriculture, finance, special economic zone development, capacity building, culture and tourism and environmental protection.

But he warned China’s overseas development assistance came in the form of loans that must be repaid. While Beijing has financed major infrastructure projects that contribute to Cambodia’s economic development, recurrent maintenance costs were left to the host country.

“Overdependence on China, coupled with loan repayments and maintenance costs, could result in Cambodia’s falling into the so-called debt trap. This means that Cambodia will not be able to meet regular repayments and default,” he said.

“Chinese companies involved in providing infrastructure could take possession of the infrastructure. This could hypothetically mean Chinese ownership of Cambodian ports and even airports,” he said.