Large donation sees China, Cambodia ties increasing

By Julia Wallace

PHNOM PENH (AA) – The prime minister has announced that China will donate 3.6 billion Yuan (around $600 million) to Cambodia over the course of the next three years, putting the Southeast Asian country closer to what was already its biggest donor.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page Friday, Hun Sen said the donation had been announced during a bilateral meeting between himself and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, and that the money would be used to pay for elections, education and clean water projects.

China is already Cambodia’s largest contributor, with Hun Sen repeatedly offering public praise for the Asian superpower’s “no strings attached” aid policy while blasting efforts by the U.S. and other Western countries to make donations contingent on human rights and development benchmarks.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that would withhold $77.8 million in planned aid if the government did not “[cease] violence and harassment against civil society in Cambodia, including the political opposition”.

The news of the Chinese donation comes as Cambodia comes under the international microscope following May 10 assassination of a prominent political analyst, Kem Ley.

The murder — carried out in broad daylight inside a gas station convenience store in a busy area of Phnom Penh — has drawn condemnation from not only the country’s main opposition party, but also U.N. human rights experts and the U.S. government, which have called for serious independent investigations into the circumstances surrounding the killing.

The donation also comes in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague’s decision this week in favor of the Philippines in a long-simmering dispute over territory in the South China Sea, much of which China claims as its own despite competing claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Although it is officially neutral on the South China Sea issue, in practice Cambodia has been a long-time ally of China within the ASEAN regional bloc when it comes to the sea, often blocking efforts by fellow ASEAN members to issue joint statements or band together to negotiate with China as a group.

Cambodia has argued that the disputes should all be settled bilateral — which is also China’s stance. Most recently, Hun Sen spoke out late last month against efforts to issue a joint communique on the arbitration case, saying that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party was firmly against doing so.

“Efforts by some countries outside the region to mobilize forces against China would bring negative impacts on ASEAN and peace in the region,” The Cambodia Daily reported him as saying at the time.