South China Sea: as tensions mount, Wang Yi vows Beijing to be by Cambodia’s side no matter what

China will be Cambodia’s “most reliable friend and the firmest supporter”, regardless of the international environment, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Cambodian leader Hun Manet on Monday amid growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

During the meeting in Phnom Penh, Wang said China would continue to invest more in Cambodian infrastructure and promote production capacity cooperation, according to China’s foreign ministry.

In response, Hun Manet said Phnom Penh’s China policy had been “consistent”, adding that his country would firmly support China’s position on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. There was no mention of the South China Sea in China’s official readout from the meeting.

Hun Manet added that Phnom Penh would continue to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative, a Beijing-led infrastructure project.



‘Fruit of peace’: new China-funded airport launched in Cambodia

‘Fruit of peace’: new China-funded airport launched in Cambodia

Wang also met Hun Manet’s father Hun Sen, the President of the Senate, who was prime minister for nearly 40 years.

Hun Sen reaffirmed that Phnom Penh’s stance towards Beijing remained friendly and unchanged and he called the two countries “close friends and strategic partners”.

After taking office last year, Hun Manet visited China and met President Xi Jinping, sending a clear message that Phnom Penh’s China-friendly policy prevailed despite growing rivalry in the Asia-Pacific region related to the South China Sea.

Xi and Hun Manet met twice in September and October last year. Foreign Minister Wang met with his counterpart Chenda Sophea Sok in Beijing in December.

Wang’s high-profile visit to Cambodia this week also included meeting King Norodom Sihamoni, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chanthol and Chenda Sophea Sok.

China’s ties with Cambodia remain among the closest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries. The two have no territorial disputes and Phnom Penh largely depends on China’s trade and investment.

In 2023, trade between the two countries reached US$12.26 billion, marking a 5 per cent increase compared with 2022, according to Cambodia’s customs and excise department.

Chinese warships’ ‘exclusive’ access at Cambodia port stokes US concerns

The weight China affords Asean relationships was highlighted by Wang’s itinerary – which included stops in Indonesia and Asean observer state Papua New Guinea before his trip to Cambodia – and visits to Beijing by political leaders from Vietnam and Laos this month.

Beijing’s relations with the Philippines have deteriorated as the Asean member has drawn closer to Washington amid a series of confrontations in the South China Sea. Other Asean members seek to avoid being caught in the crossfire of the US-China rivalry.

In Washington, there has been concern about China’s involvement in upgrading Cambodia’s Ream naval base on the Gulf of Thailand following Phnom Penh’s dismantling of a US-built facility at the same base in 2020.



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