Interview: Cambodia-China ties reach top level after 55-year care: Cambodian scholar

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The bilateral relations between Cambodia and China have reached the top level after being forged and fostered by the two countries' leaders for 55 years, a renowned Cambodian academic said Thursday.

The bilateral friendship and close relationship was constructed and nurtured by the older generation of the two countries' leadership, especially between Cambodia's late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk and former Chinese leaders Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, told Xinhua..

"Now, the relationship has entered its 55th year, and it is regarded as time-honored relationship," he said.

In a recent meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Boao of China's Hainan Province on April 7, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening and deepening the two countries' friendship and comprehensive strategic partnership to a new level.

In the meeting, Xi reaffirmed China-Cambodia relation was the model of friendly coexistence and close cooperation between countries. He also noted that Cambodia and China were good neighbors, friends, partners and brothers.

In response, Premier Hun Sen reaffirmed that enhancing the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, signed with China in 2010, is his country's political choice.

In a joint press communique issued on April 9, 2013 after the meeting between Hun Sen and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, both sides agreed to establish an inter-governmental coordination committee to fully implement the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation, maintain the momentum of high-level contacts and exchanges, strengthen cooperation between the two countries' foreign ministries, and to enhance coordination and cooperation in international and regional affairs.

"It is not difficult to achieve since China provides special tax exemption policy to Cambodia -- almost 95 percent of the products made in Cambodia are exempted from China's import tax," said Vannarith, who is also a lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the Leeds University in the United Kingdom.

He said in the last decade, China has emerged to be the key actor in Cambodia in almost all dimensions: from development assistance to trade and investment, and from security and defense cooperation to cultural and education exchanges.

"The increasing influence of China in Cambodia can be seen through both the increasing economic and cultural presence, and mutual foreign policy support and cooperation," he said.

On the defense and security cooperation front, China has supported Cambodia through different programs and projects particularly with regards to capacity building, training facilities, and military equipment.

In respect to economic cooperation, China is the top investor in Cambodia. From 1994 to 2012, Chinese investment in the country totaled 9.17 billion U.S. dollars, with the investment mainly focused on infrastructure development, mineral processing, textile industry, real estate, rice milling, and other light industries, according to Vannarith.

Moreover, China is one of the top providers of development assistance to Cambodia. Loans and grants from China between 1992 and June 2012 amounted to 2.6 billion U.S. dollars.

On the bilateral trade, he said, China is one of Cambodia's leading trade partners. Last year, bilateral trade between the two hit 2.9 billion U.S. dollars in value, and it is expected to reach 5 billion U.S. dollars by 2017.

"This reflects comprehensive approach of bilateral partnership between the two countries. However, it needs to further effectively link these development cooperation frameworks with people-based poverty reduction especially in the rural areas," he pointed out.

He went on that Chinese development assistance and private companies investing in Cambodia should focus more on people-based development approach, and good governance principles need to be strengthened in order to win the heart of the people.

Speaking of China-ASEAN relations, the scholar said that Cambodia, as a member of ASEAN since 1999, has played its part in strengthening mutual trust and understanding between China and ASEAN.

He said ASEAN and China have been working together to forge common objective to maintain peace and stability, and to realize regionally harmonious development trajectory. However, he added, there are also challenges since the South China Sea disputes have not been dealt with objectively and effectively. Endi

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