Cambodia Attempts to Reassure Neighbors on Ties With China

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday sought to reassure Cambodia’s neighbors that the country’s ever-closer ties to China were part of a foreign-policy strategy that posed no threat to the country’s allegiances with “friends” in Asean and the West.

The two-day summit in Phnom Penh, which wrapped up Tuesday, brought together government representatives from the region and further afield, including the U.S. and China, to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific, and came amid rising tensions over Beijing’s recent land reclamation work in the South China Sea.

During Tuesday’s session, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong met with China’s new ambassador to Asean, Xu Bu. Afterward, the ministry’s undersecretary of state for Asean affairs, Chem Vidhya, told reporters Cambodia’s friendship with China was not a threat to its other relationships.

“Cambodia has never discriminated between friends,” he said, echoing the government’s comments last month in reaction to the U.S.’ warning to China that it could send warships to curb the island-building.

“Just because [Cambodia] has a good relationship with China does not mean we have abandoned relations with [other countries], or that we are not paying attention to them,” he said.

Mr. Vidhya said the foreign minister thanked Mr. Xu for China’s generous multi-sectoral aid assistance, which was helping Cambodia boost its economy.

The South China Sea issue was not discussed, he said. “Cambodia wants Asean and China to maintain good relations to protect political stability and long-term security…in the interest of economic benefits for all.”

Cambodia is a minnow in Asean and has no claims in the South China Sea, yet its apparent alliance with China’s interests has elevated its voice in the debate.

Cambodia has become a mediator that can bring all sides together, Mr. Vidhya said. “Cambodia wants to help ease the atmosphere between Asean and China because we believe resolution can’t be achieved without dialogue,” he said.

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