The MS Westerdam cruise ship — with 1455 passengers and 802 crew — was refused entry at five successive ports in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Guam for fears its passengers were infected with the coronavirus after departing its stop in Hong Kong at the start of the outbreak. That changed on 13 February when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed the cruise ship to dock in Sihanoukville. Hun Sen’s handling of this case demonstrates Cambodia’s unique approach to managing relations with China.
Cambodia is a stalwart supporter of China, a country with which it enjoys strong economic and strategic relations. In contrast to other Southeast Asian states that want to balance security relations with the United States and economic ties with China, Cambodia is solidly in the China camp. Facing domestic political challenges and economic threats of sanctions by the likes of the European Union, economic and political engagement with China helps maintain Hun Sen’s grip on power and holds off the possibility of regime collapse.
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