ㄑ Belt and Road ㄑ Opinion

Cambodia-China ties cemented in BRI

China Daily | August 16, 2023

Cambodia and China have enjoyed a close, friendly and long-standing relationship, which was initiated and officially established in 1958. This relationship has since been nurtured by subsequent generations' leaders till the present days. This historic bond has grown from strength to strength and evolved into an ironclad friendship. I could certainly affirm that Cambodia-China relations are built on the foundation of a profound political trust and driven by a deep sense of mutual respect of each other's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal affairs.

For our part, the Royal Government of Cambodia has always adhered to the one-China policy and supported from the very start the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, which has brought many benefits for Cambodia and enabled it to pursue its own development path that is suitable to its national characteristics.

A bit more than a decade ago, this traditional bond had been uplifted to its highest level, that of a "Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation", where active dialogue at all levels are pursued, from the uppermost to the grassroots levels. Cambodia is grateful for the care and hospitality offered to His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath NORODOM SIHAMONI, King of Cambodia, and Her Majesty Queen Mother NORODOM MONINEATH SIHANOUK during their visits to the People's Republic of China. It is honored to reciprocate its warm welcome to His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, during his state visit to Cambodia in October 2016. Many other high-level visits have also taken place including the recent visit of His Excellency Li Keqiang, the then Chinese premier, to attend the 40th-41st ASEAN Summits and related Summits in Phnom Penh. Of late, I have also led a high-level delegation to pay an official visit to China in February 2023.

Our friendship transcends time and space, through good and difficult moments. When China was struck with the COVID-19 crisis, I took a sudden visit to Beijing in early 2020 to demonstrate Cambodia's support, solidarity, and trust in the Chinese government's ability to combat the outbreak. In response, China was the first country to provide us with COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment, as well as dispatching Chinese medical experts to Cambodia.

In terms of trade and economy, China is currently Cambodia's top major trading partner, the main driver of foreign investment and a key contributor of development assistance. I am proud that Cambodia has its first free trade agreement signed with China, which has boosted enormously our economic, commercial, and investment cooperation. This FTA has opened up new market access for numerous new Cambodian exports to the Chinese market. In fact, the volume of bilateral trade in 2022 has exceeded our 2023 target of $10 billion.

In terms of development assistance, China's BRI is the largest aid source for Cambodia's physical infrastructure development, which is the backbone for our economic growth and national development, both of which act as a vital catalyst for improving our people's livelihoods. To date, China has assisted in the construction of more than 10 bridges and 30 national roads totaling over 3,000 kilometers in length. At the same time, many other outstanding achievements have emerged under the assistance of the Chinese government including the construction of Morodok Techo National Stadium, Cambodia-China Friendship Tboung Khmum Hospital, and China-aided medical building at the Cambodia — China Friendship Preah Kossamak Hospital, all of which have hugely contributed to the socio-economic development of Cambodia and the well-being of the Cambodian people.

Cooperation in the fields of education, culture, health, tourism, agriculture, and innovation has witnessed significant progress as well. Cambodia will continue to work closely alongside China to fulfill our diamond cooperation, which His Excellency Xi Jinping and I set out during my last visit to China earlier this year. As we declare 2023 as the Year of Cambodia-China Friendship to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations, we have envisaged 50 proposed commemorative activities to embellish our Cambodia-China relations.

As the world faces increasing global uncertainty, where protectionism and unilateralism continue to creep in, and the prospect of a global economic crisis looming, the BRI will be a beneficial platform to strengthen connectivity and promote shared growth, especially during the post-pandemic era. With overwhelming support from more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations, the BRI has certainly achieved its rightful recognition from the international community. Cambodia will continue to show its unwavering support to the BRI, whose main concepts are in line with our National Strategic Development Plan and the Rectangular Strategy Phase IV.

Since the signing of the "Outline of Bilateral Cooperation Plan to Jointly Build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road" on May 16, 2017, we have many outstanding achievements to show the world, from the construction of the new Siem Reap International Airport, the development of the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, and the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which His Excellency Li Keqiang and I presided over its official inauguration in November 2022. Plus, the groundbreaking ceremony of the Phnom Penh-Bavet Expressway was also held on June 7, 2023.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the commencement of the Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched by His Excellency President Xi Jinping in 2013. I enthusiastically welcome and support China's hosting of the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation later this year and I am confident that the upcoming event will serve as an important platform for many leaders, from big and small countries, to exchange their experiences on the implementation of this great initiative which will bring shared growth, stability, and prosperity in the region and beyond.

The author is Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo HUN SEN, prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.