Nowhere is China’s rise more evident than in the Global South, the less socioeconomically developed regions of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. China has courted countries there with “South-South” partnerships hinging on economic assistance, minus the liberal political strings frequently attached to Western support. Just as American diplomat George Kennan feared that these states would seek Soviet backing because they believed communism to be “the coming thing, the movement of the future,” so do small states today seek Chinese support in the belief that as fellow travelers alongside China, they will profit from Chinese trade and investment, and, ultimately, Beijing’s rewriting of global rules.
This phenomenon is evident in China-Cambodia relations. China did not coerce Cambodia into joining its fold, as former US Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell has suggested. Rather, Hun Sen chose China, which in turn found Cambodia useful. And while China’s backing has strengthened Hun Sen’s short-term grip on power, it has under- mined his clan’s long-term control of Cambodia by backing them into an unenviable corner from which there are no good ways out.