Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday lauded his government’s strong ties with China, but said Cambodia does not give Chinese companies any preferential treatment.
Mr. Hun Sen was speaking at the inauguration of the $47.1 million Kirirom III hydropower dam in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district—constructed by a state-owned Chinese company under a 30-year build-operate-transfer agreement.
Mr. Hun Sen said he had agreed last year with the outgoing Chinese leadership, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, to increase already-good cooperation between the two countries.
“Both counterparts agreed to increase to a higher level of strategic cooperation in all sectors,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Now, Cambodian-Chinese relations are reaching a higher level.”
He added that he would visit China in April to meet the new rulers, President Xi Jingping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who are set to take power in March in a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Although China has become Cambodia’s largest source of investment, as well as military aid and loans, Mr. Hun Sen said Chinese businesses were not given any “privilege” over others.
“I would like to publicly declare that the Cambodian investment policy is ‘first come, first served,’” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“Meeting with investors from Japan, the U.S. or other countries, I always say Cambodia does not discriminate against investors.”
The prime minister also thanked Chinese Ambassador Pan Guangxue and the Chinese government for encouraging investors to come to Cambodia, and said China has a favorable import duty policy on Cambodian products.
“The main thing is what kind of goods to invest in to supply the market’s demand in China. Our Chinese counterparts have an opportunity to urge more investors toward Cambodia to produce goods for the Chinese market.” Mr. Hun Sen said, highlighting the strength of China’s 1.3 billion population.
“If they all urinate at once, they can cause floods,” he quipped.
Chinese companies are involved in the majority of large infrastructure projects underway in Cambodia, which are usually awarded without competitive tendering. According to the National Bank of Cambodia, at least $276 million flowed into Cambodia from China in the first nine months of 2012, more than a quarter of the total foreign direct investment in Cambodia.
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that China could provide a market for agricultural products like rice, corn, sesame, cassava and rubber from Cambodia, boosting exports.
But, he said, Cambodia’s increasing closeness to Beijing, the rising superpower, could negatively affect its relations with the West.
“It can impact on good relations with Western states, particularly the United States, which are now putting pressure on Cambodia on elections and promoting human rights,” Mr. Mong Hay said, adding that the Cambodian government appeared to be vulnerable to pressure by China in geopolitical affairs.
During its Asean chairmanship last year, Cambodia was accused of doing China’s bidding in discussions over the disputed waters of the South China Sea, much to the ire of regional neighbors.