Another Fruitful Visit

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to China in early February showcased the special “ironclad” friendship between China and Cambodia

By Wang Wentian, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom of Cambodia

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on February 10, 2023. (SHEN HONG)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made an official visit to China from February 9 to 11. The visit was significant in that it took place at the beginning of the year marking the 65th anniversary of the establishment of China-Cambodia diplomatic relations and the “Year of China-Cambodia Friendship.” Hun Sen’s trip also coincided with the third anniversary of his last visit to Beijing amid heavy snow as the Chinese people were fighting the outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2020. Three years later, amid some familiar snow in Beijing, The Cambodian Prime Minister became the first foreign leader to visit China after the Chinese New Year of 2023. Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to the visit as a “three-year appointment.” Both sides considered the visit tremendously important and began preparing for it intensely in early January. The duration and content of the visit were unprecedented for a foreign leader since the outbreak of COVID-19, highlighting the special and close “ironclad” friendship between China and Cambodia.

I had the privilege to be involved in the process of preparation and reception of this visit, during which I personally felt the charm of President Xi Jinping as the leader of a major country and Prime Minister Hun Sen as a senior political leader. I also deeply felt the high level of political mutual trust and profound friendship between the leaders of the two countries. I’m now more keenly aware of the important role of high-level exchanges in China-Cambodia bilateral relations.

Hun Sen’s visit was a complete success that produced extremely fruitful results. The two sides issued the Joint Statement on Building a China-Cambodia Community with a Shared Future in the New Era. Hun Sen joined Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in witnessing the signing of 12 cooperation documents and announcing the launch of the “Year of China-Cambodia Friendship.” He also attended the China-Cambodia Economic Forum on Trade, Investment, and Tourism. I would summarize the main outcomes of this visit across four aspects:

First, new progress was made in political mutual trust. During the visit, Prime Minister Hun Sen held talks and meetings with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, and Chairman Li Zhanshu of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. With simultaneous interpretation, President Xi exchanged views with Hun Sen for 100 minutes. At a subsequent banquet, they conducted more in-depth discussions and reached broad consensus on building a China-Cambodia community with a shared future in the new era and on other subjects. The two leaders reached firm consensus on building a high-quality, high-level, and high-standard China-Cambodia community with a shared future in the new era. This was the most important achievement of this visit and an important upgrade of China and Cambodia’s 2019 decision to take the lead in building a community with a shared future. The leaders effectively designed new plans for the future development of China-Cambodia relations.

Second, new breakthroughs were made in pragmatic cooperation. Both sides agreed to develop a “diamond hexagon” cooperation framework with six priority areas: political cooperation, production capacity, agriculture, energy, security, and people-to-people exchange.

In terms of political cooperation, the two sides agreed to optimize the role of the China-Cambodia Intergovernmental Coordination Committee, negotiate and sign a new Action Plan for Building a China-Cambodia Community with a Shared Future as soon as possible, and coordinate efforts on practical cooperation in various fields. Both sides agreed to strengthen political party cooperation and exchange in various areas and at all levels and to enhance exchange on governance and personnel training. They also agreed to promote cooperation between counterpart departments, advance friendly youth exchange, and deepen exchange between the legislatures and political advisory bodies of both countries.

In terms of production capacity cooperation, focus was placed on development of an “Industrial and Technological Corridor.” Preah Sihanouk Province is an important pillar of Cambodia’s economic development. Today, the Cambodian government is working hard to build it into a model of a multi-purpose Special Economic Zone (SEZ). China stands ready to provide assistance in this regard. By deepening synergy between development strategies and seeking more input from the China-Cambodia Working Mechanism for Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation, the two sides can explore ways to develop an “Industrial and Technological Corridor.” Based on flagship projects like the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) and Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, more competent Chinese enterprises are encouraged to invest in Cambodia and explore cooperation possibilities in transportation facilities, power grids, fiber optics networks, warehousing, and logistics. China supports railway construction in Cambodia and looks forward to Cambodia’s earliest possible connection to the China-Laos-Thailand Railway.

In terms of agricultural cooperation, focus was on establishment of a “Fish and Rice Corridor.” Cambodia is rich in agricultural resources, and agriculture is an important pillar of the Cambodian economy. Northwestern Cambodia and the Tonle Sap Lake area are Cambodia’s “granary” and “fish basket.” The two sides agreed to explore establishment of a “Fish and Rice Corridor” around this area to develop modern ecological agriculture near the lake to help Cambodia accelerate agricultural modernization, increase farmers’ income, and promote the export of high-quality agricultural products to China. Jiangsu Province in east China is a “fertile land of fish and rice” with advanced technology and rich experience in developing modern agriculture. The Chinese Embassy in Cambodia will promote the establishment of a “point-to-point” cooperation mechanism between the province and Cambodia as soon as possible to facilitate construction of the “Fish and Rice Corridor.”

In terms of energy cooperation, China will continue to encourage appropriate enterprises to increase their investment in Cambodia’s energy sector and enhance cooperation in hydropower, solar, and other green energy sources to achieve long-term development. The Upper Stung Tatay Hydropower Station and Kompong Chhnang Khet National Solar Park built by Chinese companies will both be completed soon. Cambodia grapples with a serious power shortage during the dry season. China is doing everything it can to help Cambodia solve the problem. Today, the two sides are conducting communication and research on relevant projects that will provide stable and reliable sources of electricity to support Cambodia’s economic development.

In terms of security cooperation, the two sides agreed to enhance military exchanges at all levels. They agreed to continue cooperation on the exchange and sharing of information between law enforcement departments, with highlights on countering transnational crime, countering terrorism, preventing “color revolution”, and combating drug-related crimes, telecom fraud, illegal cross-border gambling, and human trafficking. China will continue to provide mine-clearance assistance to Cambodia to help achieve its mine-free vision by 2025.

Chinese tourists are welcomed at Phnom Penh International Airport on February 7, 2023. The return of Chinese tourists kindled hope for the recovery of the tourism industry in Cambodia following the pandemic. (TANG CHHIN SOTHY)
Entrance to the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone Industrial Park.

Third, a new situation has been created for people-to-people exchange. As the Chinese saying goes, “Affinity between peoples is key to state-to-state relations.” China considers people-to-people exchange between the two countries extremely important. After China optimized and adjusted its COVID-19 prevention and control policy, it designated Cambodia among the first countries with which it would resume outbound group travel, with priority on restoring and increasing direct passenger flights between the two countries. Leaders of the two countries also reached consensus on further expanding digital payments with Chinese currency in Cambodia, which is a great convenience for Chinese tourists. We are pleased to see Chinese tourists coming back to Cambodia. Through the joint efforts, people-to-people exchange will return to pre-pandemic levels soon.

China also supports outstanding Cambodian youth studying in China. It supports Cambodia’s development of Chinese language teaching, promotes opening of Confucius Institutes in Cambodia, organizes vocational education cooperation and digital transformation of education, and advances cooperation in technology transfer and S&T people-to-people exchange. The two sides agreed to promote the China-aid Project on Royal Palace Restoration in Angkor and protection and restoration of Preah Vihear Temple and other cultural heritage sites. China is committed to providing support for Cambodia to host the 2023 Southeast Asian Games and providing assistance to Cambodia in athlete training.

Fourth, multilateral cooperation has been enhanced. Changes in the world, of our times, and in history are unfolding in ways no one could have expected. Against the backdrop of profound and complex changes in the international and regional situation, it is necessary for China and Cambodia to strengthen solidarity and cooperation and coordinate closely in multilateral affairs. The leaders of the two countries exchanged views on international and regional issues and reached firm consensus:

First, both recognize the common values for all humanity of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom, and stand ready to safeguard the international system with the UN as its core, the international order based on international law, and the basic norms governing international relations embodied in the purposes and principles of the UN Charter while opposing all forms of hegemonism, power politics, unilateralism, and exclusive bloc politics targeting specific countries.

Second, both are committed to building a new type of international relations and promoting global partnerships based on equality, openness, and cooperation towards the goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind.

Third, both agree to adhere to true multilateralism and firmly support the open, transparent, inclusive, non-discriminatory and rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core. The Cambodian side reiterated support for China’s proposal of the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and pledged to stand ready to work with China on the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and push global security governance towards common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security. Both sides reiterated their commitment to open regionalism and agreed to enhance Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, deepen the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership, and build a peaceful, safe and secure, prosperous, beautiful, and amicable home in the region. They also called on relevant parties to carry forward the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) fully and effectively and reach an early conclusion on a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.

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