Friends with Benefits

For Cambodia’s prime minister of more than three decades, a blossoming alliance with China means no Western powers questioning his increasingly authoritarian rule. For China, Cambodia offers a regional voice of support for its controversial expansion in the South China Sea.

For a more than 25 years, the West has helped rebuild Cambodia as it recovered from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The United States and Europe sent billions of dollars in aid to help transform Cambodia into a liberal democracy, an effort that has largely failed.

Cambodia is now the one country in Southeast Asia openly embracing China. Hun Sen, the prime minister who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has taken a strong anti-American line in a tense run-up to July’s election, and the surge in China’s economic and political influence mirrors a downturn in relations with the United States and the European Union over deteriorating human rights and political freedoms in the country.

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