Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet visited Beijing on Thursday for his first official foreign trip since taking office last month, demonstrating his country’s warm relations with China, its closest political and economic ally.
He is expected to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other officials during the three-day trip, according to the Cambodian Foreign Ministry. The statement said the leaders of the two countries will discuss strengthening relations for a common future with the construction of a “Cambodia-China Community”, strategic directions for their bilateral relations and regional and international issues.
Cambodia is a key diplomatic partner of China and a supporter in regional and international forums. That helps ease criticism of Beijing within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, several of which are engaged in territorial disputes with China in the China Sea southern.
China has gained significant influence over Cambodian politics and economics, as evidenced by the numerous Chinese-funded projects, hotels and casinos in the capital Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the country. Chinese state banks have financed airports, roads and other infrastructure built with Chinese loans. More than 40% of Cambodia’s $10 billion in external debt is owed to China.
Cambodia’s close relationship with Beijing was nurtured by Hun Manet’s father, Hun Sen, who resigned as prime minister last month after nearly four decades. His Cambodian People’s Party holds power, aided by Hun Sen’s autocratic rule and deft political maneuvering that has paralyzed effective opposition.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Cambodia to reaffirm his country’s commitment to its ally shortly after Hun Sen announced his retirement plans.
Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son, had been commander of the army before succeeding his father. He was educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but is widely expected to maintain long-distance relations with Washington.
The United States has shown its disapproval of Hun Sen’s undemocratic measures and is also concerned about the expansion of a Gulf of Thailand naval port launched by Cambodia and China last year. Hun Sen has always denied that Cambodia granted China the right to establish its own military base at the Ream naval base.