Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday praised China for pledging virtually as much aid as all Consultative Group members combined last week, and with no strings attached.
“Six hundred million is equal to the CG, and it has no conditions and no benchmarks,” Hun Sen said during a cable factory inauguration in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district on Tuesday.
“I asked [Chinese Prime Minister] Wen Jiabao to help me. China talks little but does a lot,” Hun Sen said.
On Saturday, the last day of his official state visit, Wen Jiabao pledged $600 million in foreign aid—just $1 million short of the sum pledged by the 17 CG members at their March meeting.
The CG, which does not include China, operates on the basis of Cambodia meeting certain benchmarks to demonstrate improvement in such areas as poverty reduction and reform in public administration and the judiciary.
Several benchmarks set at the December 2004 meeting, such as the passage of an anti-corruption law and a moratorium on economic land concessions, were not met by the March meeting.
Sri Thammarong, an advisor to Hun Sen, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that about a third of the money pledged by Wen Jiabao, around $200 million, was in the form of low-interest loans to build two bridges.
A government official said Sunday on condition of anonymity that much of the remaining $400 million was slated for projects China had already promised to fund, such as the new, $50 million Council of Ministers complex.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday that the government believes tying aid to reform benchmarks is unreasonable and unnecessary.
“Conditions are the pretext of some countries that don’t want to give the aid. Those who give the aid without condition know our behavior,” said Khieu Kanharith, adding that Japan, a CG member, had also pledged unconditional aid.
But others said they worried that there were in fact hidden conditions tied to China’s generous donation.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said a deal might have been struck in which China was granted special privileges. “Don’t allow aid to force the government to give China too many concessions,” he said.
“Aid without conditions will force the government to be careless when monitoring Chinese companies,” he said. “That will cause destruction more costly than the aid.”
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said that the CG process was in the best interests of the country’s development.
“The US does not put conditions on its aid but works through the CG process,” he said. “The donor countries set those [conditions] because they are things that are important to those countries and in the interest of Cambodia’s development.”
British and German Embassy officials declined to comment. The European Union Charge d’Affaires did not return messages, and Japanese Embassy officials could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Whitney Kvasager and Erik Wasson)