It was quite a coup for Hun Sen. Last week, the Cambodian prime minister traveled to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping, who hadn’t made a public appearance for more than week at the time.
Given his usual ubiquitousness, and given that the Chinese Communist Party is facing one of its most taxing challenges in decades with the coronavirus outbreak, Xi’s absence has been puzzling – and led to all sorts of rumors, from an illness or possible stroke to even a palace coup. But not only did Xi turn out publicly to meet the leader of one of China’s most loyal allies, it made Hun Sen the first foreign premier to make a formal visit to Beijing since the coronavirus epidemic began.
“Hun Sen says he is making the visit to show that Cambodia is a steadfast supporter and die-hard friend of China,” the Chinese state broadcaster reported. The state-run tabloid, Global Times, intoned in an opinion article that “at this special moment, Hun Sen and the Cambodian people have demonstrated the deep and sincere friendship between China and Cambodia through actions. The docile Khmer Times proclaimed: “Although Cambodia is much smaller and weaker than China, the bilateral relationship is equal because both countries have shown mutual respect, especially with regards to national sovereignty and independence.”