Last month, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in a show of solidarity amid the coronavirus crisis. Hun Sen was the first foreign leader to visit China after the outbreak began, calling Cambodia and China “steadfast friends” and criticizing other countries for restricting travel to China. The visit was another example of how Phnom Penh has grown closer to Beijing in recent years, while drifting further from the West.
Cambodia appears increasingly like a Chinese vassal state. China is Cambodia’s biggest investor—best evidenced by the coastal city of Sihanoukville, transformed by the construction of apartments, casinos, and hotels for Chinese nationals. Cambodia seems to have handed over large swaths of its coastline to China for military purposes. And as China has backed major infrastructure projects and pledged around $100 million in military aid, Cambodia has vetoed Association of Southeast Asian Nations resolutions opposing China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.