Coronavirus gives Vietnam, Cambodia a chance to boost ties with Washington and Beijing

As coronavirus crisis continues, Phnom Penh has shown solidarity with Beijing, while Vietnam joined US-led Quad partnership set up to counter China’s influence. The neighbours’ allegiances have a bearing on great power rivalry in Asia.

As Cambodia increasingly aligns with China, Vietnamwarms up to the United States. For the Southeast Asian neighbours who share a bitter past, the coronavirus pandemic has provided opportunities to cement allegiances that have a bearing on great power rivalry in our region.

Cambodia is China’s staunchest ally in Southeast Asia. Beijing has kept it close with economic, political and military support. It is the only Asean country to be a dialogue partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a China-led security-plus organisation involving mostly Central and Eurasian countries.

Relations with the West went downhill in 2017 when the ruling party accused foreign powers of sponsoring a “colour revolution” and the country’s high court dissolved the main opposition party. The European Union’s removal of preferential tariffs for Cambodian clothing and footwear exports earlier this year has hit hard. Last year, 43 per cent of the country’s foreign direct investment came from China.

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