When it comes to China – Cambodia relations there is often a lot of flack thrown at the government of the Kingdom. Many feel China – Cambodia relations are either too close, or that China holds too much power, but what I the actual relationship and dynamic?
China – Cambodia Relations historically
Before the French came into Indochina, China was the regional powerhouse. Yet unlike European countries it did not colonize others, but instead allowed them independence under a tributary system.
This meant that while China considered them below the “Middle Kingdom”, they were not mere Chinese puppets.
Things though obviously changed following French rule within the region.
King Sihanouk and the Peoples Republic of China
Sihanouk was a friend of many leftist governments, but chief among his pals were Mao and Kim Il-Sung, the later of which he described as his best friend.
To read about the Sihanouk – Kim friendship click here (link to https://www.youngpioneertours.com/king-sihanouks-love-of-north-korea/).
The Chinese relationship though was a little more complex as China also gave support to the Khmer Rouge, who themselves were avowedly Maoist. This resulted in Mao forging the unholy alliance between the the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk that would lead to the formation of Democratic Kampuchea.
China – Khmer Rouge relations
Initially China heavily supported Democratic Kampuchea through an entirely ideological spectrum, and indeed were the nations only real “friend”. Following the death of Mao though and when the Khmer Rouge became the “rebels” it was much more about sticking Ione to the Soviets.
To read why China supported the Khmer Rouge click here (link to https://www.democratickampuchea.com/why-did-china-support-the-khmer-rouge/).
China did though continue supporting them in some way shape, or form until the 1990’s and ironically were the avowed enemies of Hun Sen and what was to become the Cambodian Peoples Party.
Beginning of Modern Cambodia – China relations
As Cambodia began to blossom into the country it is today it started to drift away from the ecosphere of Vietnam and look for other partners. In this side of the world that usually means the USA, or China.
Essentially for Cambodia the choice was natural one, with the Kingdom still distorting the USA over not only its bombings of the country, but also its overt support for the Khmer Rouge.
To read if the USA supported the Khmer Rouge cluck here (link to https://www.democratickampuchea.com/did-america-back-the-khmer-rouge/).
China offered aid and investment without question and this was something the government of the CPP were only too happy to accept.
Contemporary relations between China and Cambodia
Contemporary relations are extremely good, with China being responsible for not only the majority of tourists within the Kingdom, but more importantly Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Large projects have included much infrastructure related to China’s Belt and Road policy, such as airports and roads, but also a slightly less savory side, as in the Chinese exclave that is Sihanoukville. Currently the city looks like a tier-4 Chinese city that is half built, with the other half being casinos.
Are Cambodia and China military allies in 2023?
Despite what hawkish reporters might say Cambodia is cowedly neutral and stability is one of the ruling part’s main mantras. China and Cambodia certainly cooperate, but make no mistake Cambodia is no Chinese stooge.
The Kingdom though much like other states in the region appreciates China giving without poking its Bose into their internal affairs. As one politician from Timor-Leste put it to me, confidentially of course “The west ask for more democracy, which we do and get nothing in return. The Chinese build stuff that we need”.
China – Cambodia Relations Post-Covid
With that being said though relations between the countries, while still close have drifted since the pandemic. This is not due to any particular strain, but more inline with how many nations now feel, and that is that they should not throw their eggs into one basked, but it for supply lines, or financial aid.
Do not though underestimate China – Cambodia relations in 2023 as despite the war in Ukraine nations are not vatting down western doorways to join their democracy club, no matter what the press might tell you.
Read more about Eastern Angle here (link internally).