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讓世界看到彩色的香港 讓香港看到彩色的世界

Opinion | Chinese FM Wang Yi visits Cambodia – Beijing's best ASEAN ally

By Augustus K. Yeung

Amid escalating tensions in Sino-Philippine relations, ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, especially Cambodia appear to be more prominent, positive and prosperous – due to the politicizing of the U.S.

America's decision to pivot to Asia-Pacific is the sole cause.

This is what has been worrying Cambodia, which ranks among the poorest in the ASEAN bloc. Can it count on the United States to modernize the country?

Look what America had done in the days of the Vietnam War and you will understand the psychology of fear of the Cambodians and their longings for peace and prosperity.

What China has been doing for the impoverished Cambodians is addressing this aspect of their existential needs.

Given this context, Wang Yi's visit to Cambodia is like home coming; both sides enjoy the family reunion.

Chinese FM Wang Yi arrived in Cambodia last weekend for a three-day official visit to reaffirm ties with Beijing's closest ally in Southeast Asia. His visit is the last stop on a three-nation regional swing that also took him to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea.

Wang is visiting amid foreign concerns about two big Chinese-funded projects in Cambodia – a planned canal and a naval base – that Western critics alleged could aid Beijing's strategic military interests in Southeast Asia.

China is Cambodia's most important ally and benefactor, with strong influence in its economy. That is illustrated by numerous Chinese-funded projects – particularly infrastructure, including airports and roads, but also private projects such as hotels, casinos and property development.

Wang is scheduled to have separate meetings with Prime Minister Hun Manet and his father, Hun Sen, now serving as president of the Senate after in power for 38 years as Cambodia's head of government until he stepped down last year to be succeeded by his son. Wang was also granted a royal audience with King Norodom Sihamoni.

Hun Manet has shown no sign of deviating from his father's pro-Beijing foreign policy. In August 2023, Wang visited Cambodia just days after Hun Sen announced that he would step down as prime minister in favor of his eldest son.

Note: Beijing's staunch support allows Cambodia to disregard Western concerns about its alleged poor record on human and political rights, and in turn Cambodia generally supports Beijing's positions on foreign policy issues such as its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Cambodia has recently reiterated its determination to go ahead with the Chinese-financed 180-kilometer long, $1.7 billion Funan Techo Canal project across four provinces in the southern part of the country to connect the capital, Phnom Penh, to the Gulf of Thailand.

The plan has raised concern from neighboring Vietnam, where some scholars speculated the 100-meter-wide and 5.4 deter-deep canal could make it easier for China to send military forces southward, close to Vietnam's southern coast.

Note: There are occasional frosty relations between Vietnam and its massive northern neighbor China, making it vulnerable to U.S. pressure.

The United States has also weighed in on the project, appealing for transparency on the part of Cambodia's government. Wesley Holzer, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Phnom Penh, was quoted as recently telling the Voice of America that "the Cambodian people, along with people in neighboring countries and the broader region, would benefit from transparency on any major undertaking with potential implications for regional water management, agricultural sustainability, and security."

Hun Manet, speaking last week to government officials and villagers in southern Takeo province, decisively dismissed the Vietnamese concern and vowed to push forward with the project, which he said would provide a huge benefit to Cambodia. (Source: MDT/AP)

While Wang Yi is visiting Cambodia, the U.S. and Philippine forces are launching combat drills in disputed waters. American and Filipino forces launched their largest combat exercises in years yesterday in a show of allied firepower near the disputed South China Sea that has alarmed Beijing.

The annual exercises by the longtime treaty allies will run until May 10 and involve more than 16,000 of their military personnel, along with more than 250 French and Australian forces.

While the Philippine military maintains that the Balikatan – Tagalog for "shoulder-to-shoulder" – trainings are not directed at a particular country, some of their main conflict scenarios are set in or near the disputed South China Sea, where Chinese and Philippine coast guard are accompanying ships have figured in a series of increasing tense territorial faceoffs since last year.

The Philippine military said a key focus of this year's drills is territorial defense. "We're dead serious about protecting our territory – that's why we do these Balikatan exercises," Col. Michael Logico, who speaks for the Philippine military on the combat drills, told the Associated Press.

As the disputes between China and the Philippines have escalated, President Joe Biden and his administration has repeatedly warned that the United States is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if it is attacked.

Note: U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. William Jurney said in the ceremony that the large-scale military exercises will demonstrate that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines "is no mere piece of paper."

Washington has no claim to the contested waters but has declared that freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of the disputes are in its national interest.

Naturally, China strongly criticized the exercises, saying the Philippines was "ganging up" with countries from outside Asia in an obvious reference to the United States and its security partners, and warned that the drills could instigate confrontation and undermine regional stability.

China specifically opposed the transport of a U.S. ground-launched missile system to the northern Philippines ahead of the exercises. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian expressed China's grave concern over the deployment of the missile system "at China's doorstep."

Is Mr. Marcos doing the right things that the Cambodians are doing to help modernize their country? Is building ballistic launches better than building bridges?


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

To contact the writer, please direct email: AugustusKYeung@ymail.com

Read more articles by Augustus K. Yeung:

Opinion | Is there a shift in Chinese diplomacy? It must be more proactive

Opinion | How 'durian diplomacy' sweetens China-Vietnam broader relations

Opinion | German Chancellor Scholz in China – What are his goals?

Opinion | Sino-US stories of ambivalence and rivalry: Then and now


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