China foreign minister to pay short visit to Kingdom

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh in October of last year. SPM

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi will pay a short visit to Cambodia as part of a tour of four countries from September 10-15 to further strengthen Cambodia-China relations. This is his second visit to the Kingdom since the beginning of the pandemic.

“State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi will pay official visits to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin at a press conference in Beijing on September 7.

Yi’s visit comes following a foray by US Vice-President Kamala Harris to Singapore and Vietnam in August to strengthen ties and expand economic cooperation with two major US partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

“They will focus on anti-epidemic and development cooperation, seek greater synergy between China’s endeavour to foster a new development paradigm and the four countries’ development strategies and deepen Belt and Road Initiative cooperation and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind,” the spokesman added.

The Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to The Post’s questions on September 8, while foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said an official press statement would be issued shortly.

It is widely assumed that Yi will attend the inauguration – presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen – of the newly constructed Morodok Techo National Stadium located in Prek Tasek commune of Chroy Changvar district as it is scheduled to take place while he is in Cambodia.

The stadium covers an area of 16.22ha at the northern end of the capital and has seating capacity of 60,000 people. The first major international event planned for the facility is the 2023 SEA Games.

The construction costs were around $200 million under a grant from the Chinese government.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, told The Post on September 8 that Yi’s visit emphasized the importance of Cambodia-China relations to China’s broader regional strategy.

Phea said that with Cambodia taking the chair of ASEAN next year, China remains motivated to stay focused on maintaining a strong relationship. Cambodia, for its part, has benefited greatly from Chinese investment in infrastructure through BRI as well as China’s generous provision of vaccines to the Cambodian people.

“Wang Yi’s visit also shows how comprehensive the Cambodian-Chinese relationship has become, which is reflected via the exchange of official visits and reciprocal state visits on a frequent basis. Contrast that to the United States official visits, which are only occasional and usually involve lower-ranking officials than those China sends,” Phea said.

On June 1, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman led a delegation to Phnom Penh and held talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen. She reports directly to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whose position in the US government is roughly equivalent to that of Yi’s as foreign minister for China.

Lim Menghour, deputy director of the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies at the Asian Vision Institute, told The Post on September 8 that Yi’s visit will advance the strategic interests of Cambodia and China and will mainly be focused on efforts to fight Covid-19.

“Since the outbreak began, China has shown the world leadership in containing the virus, promoting international solidarity and collective responses, and advancing vaccine multilateralism.

“China has also provided financial support to the WHO and donated Covid-19 vaccines to around 53 developing countries without discrimination,” he said.

“Promoting a new development paradigm under BRI framework will be another main agenda of the visit,” Menghour said, referring to China’s practice of foregoing the sometimes intrusive and demanding requirements regarding the internal policies of developing countries it provides aid to, in contrast to the US and EU’s traditional insistence that countries who receive aid undertake reforms in areas like democratic governance, civil liberties and human rights.

Menghour said that the opening of the new stadium – a major piece of infrastructure and a BRI project – will provide a good opportunity for China to showcase its development policies and the benefits they offer to their partners.