The National Assembly on May 7 ratified a convention on consular services with China aimed at protecting Chinese citizens in Cambodia—and vice versa—and bolstering bilateral relations between both countries.
The convention, which was originally signed in February, strengthens consular services in both countries by providing services for citizens in areas such as travel arrangements, citizenship applications, and legal and health matters.
“As you are aware of today, economic, trade and investment relations with China is growing stronger,” Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong told the National Assembly ahead of May 7’s vote.
“This consular convention aims at allowing Chinese councilors to have the right to protect their citizens’ interests,” the foreign minister said.
Qian Hai, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, said the agreement was part of ongoing efforts to boost bilateral relations between China and Cambodia.
Mr Hai said that China would look to create its first consular offices in Cambodia, but how many and where they will be located “is still under consideration,” he said. “I think this convention can further promote the comprehensive partnership between Cambodia and China.”
Mr Hai went on to say that the current state of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and China are at an all-time high.
“I think this is the best time between Cambodian and Cambodia in terms of bilateral relations.”
Cambodia currently has six consular offices and an embassy in China, government officials said on May 7.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said at the National Assembly on May 7 that the newly ratified convention was somewhat redundant considering Cambodia and China have already signed the UN’s Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 1963.
The Vienna Convention aims to promote friendly relations among countries, irrespective of their constitutional and social systems, through sound consular services.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, defended the need for a new agreement with Beijing, saying the wording goes far beyond anything set out inside the Vienna convention.
“We approved this agreement…in order to protect the advantage of economic, cultural, social and tourism relations,” he said.
In recent years, China has steadily increased its political and economic influence over Cambodia.
According to figures from the Council for the Development of Cambodia, China became Cambodia’s largest single investor in 2008.
CDC data for 2009 shows that approved Chinese investment accounts for over 15 percent of total investment in the country, most of which has occurred in the garment and agricultural sectors. Last year also saw some interest from Chinese companies in both tourism and natural mining ventures, and Chinese firms have been moving steadily into the country’s energy sector with a series of hydropower dams planned over the coming years.
On the political front, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Cambodia in December and thanked the government for deporting 20 Uighur asylum-seekers who were fleeing from unrest in western China.
The international community sharply criticized Cambodia’s deportation of the Uighurs, and the US cancelled a delivery of some 200 military trucks to the Cambodian army in March. However, earlier this month China pledged to send Cambodia more than 250 military vehicles as part of a new $14.7 million military aid package.
During Mr Jinping’s December visit, China also signed $1.2 billion in interest-free loans and grants for infrastructure projects in Cambodia.