Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen oversaw the signing ceremonies for 12 agreements with China on Friday during an official trip to Beijing, and introduced two of his sons to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
The agreements cover a number of areas, including the building of schools in Kratie province, boosting trade, a US$44 million grant for the removal of unexploded ordnance, and the construction of a reservoir in Kampong Thom province.
For China, tight ties with Cambodia ensure that Beijing has a supporter in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Time and again, Cambodia has undermined ASEAN unity on the South China Sea over which Beijing has made sweeping claims of sovereignty, angering competing claimants.
For Cambodia, the agreements shore up China’s support at a time when Cambodia has come under fire internationally for a government crackdown on political opponents in the run-up to general elections in July. Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for nearly 38 years, expects to remain in power until 2028, when he plans for his son Hun Manet to take over.
“In the meeting both leaders highly appreciated the two bilateral relationships that have gone from being comprehensive cooperation to an ironclad relationship and then to a cooperation that defines one destiny,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook.
Xi, thanked Hun Sen for saying that “he has to rely on China because he can’t rely on other people,” according to the Facebook post.
Hun Sen in turn thanked China for providing COVID-19 vaccines. The two leaders also agreed to build more green energy projects.
Hun Sen, 70, urged Xi, 69, to encourage Chinese tourists to visit Cambodia and continue developing the economy in the capital Phnom Penh, the coastal resort town of Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap, where Cambodia’s ancient temples are located.
Hun Sen also introduced his sons, Hun Manet, the 45-year-old deputy commander-in-chief of Cambodia’s army who has been tapped as his father’s successor, and Hun Many, a 40-year-old lawmaker who represents Kampong Speu province. Hun Sen did not say why he took them along on the visit.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, acting president of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said Hun Sen was trying to cement personal ties with the Chinese Communist Party so Beijing supports his move to allow Hun Manet to replace him.
He urged people not to allow Hun Sen to exploit Cambodia for his own family’s benefits.
“Hun Sen regards Cambodia as his personal property, [and] he can kill, imprison anyone as he wishes,” Sam Rainsy said. “We can’t allow Hun Sen to use Cambodia as his personal property. We can’t live under him.”
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian Peoples’ Party, dismissed Sam Rainsy’s comments as groundless and said the government can choose any delegates, including Hun Sen’s sons, to go to China.
“Only Hun Sen can speak the truth,” he said. “So, it would be speculative for anyone to say that Hun Sen asked China to support the prime ministerial candidate.”
Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.