China’s Wang Yi touches down in Kingdom

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Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi arrived in Cambodia on Sunday for an official visit. Information Ministry

State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yi, arrived in Cambodia on Sunday for an official visit which will include a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials.

In his meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn, Wang will discuss bilateral cooperation as well as regional and international issues of common interest and concerns, the foreign ministry said in a press release.

Three documents will be signed, including the Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA), the Exchange of Note for the Feasibility Study on the Project of Improvement for Preah Sihanouk Provincial Referral Hospital and the Exchange of Note for the Feasibility Study on the Project of the Municipal Sewerage System Development Project in Preah Sihanouk. The signing ceremony will be witnessed by Hun Sen.

The press release said: “The official visit of His Excellency Wang Yi to Cambodia will further strengthen the long-lasting relations of traditional friendship, solidarity, fraternity and fruitful cooperation between Cambodia and China in light of the unprecedented global challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that Wang would visit four countries during his five-day overseas trip, starting with Cambodia, followed by Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand. He would have a transit visit to Singapore on Thursday.

Wang will also meet Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong. Last Tuesday, Namhong led a meeting with members of the Cambodia-China Intergovernmental Coordination Committee to review the implementation of various works, including CCFTA, the construction and renovation plans of roads 71C, 31, 33 and 41, and the development of agriculture modernisation, according to his Facebook post.

The meeting also looked at the cooperation between China and the Ministry of Interior on the areas of social security, human resource development, sub-national cooperation and other issues at various institutions.

Namhong’s Facebook post said many Cambodian products will be exported to China in the near future, including 400,000 tonnes of rice, bananas, mangoes, cassava, durian, cashew nuts, rubber, sugar, Pailin longans, pepper, coconuts, dragon fruit and bird nest beverages.

Wang’s visit comes as the Pentagon in the US expressed concern about the recent demolition of the Tactical Command Headquarters (TCH) at the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.

The Pentagon told Reuters New Agency recently that it was concerned that the demolition may be tied to a Cambodian government plan to host China’s military assets and personnel at the base.

The TCH will be relocated to Koh Preap about 30km away.

Cambodia has clarified that the TCH relocation was due to an improvement plan and the development of the Ream Naval Base. Last week, Hun Sen reiterated that vessels from any country are welcomed to dock at the Ream Naval Base with prior request.

Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath said he believed that China and the US were contesting for power in Asia. He observed that China was working hard on diplomacy as it tried to turn Cambodia into a “strategic point”, while other countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar seem to be leaning towards the US.

“For the free trade agreement, it will be mutually beneficial only if we have a strong position. The matter [revolves around] whether we gain many benefits or not. What we should be cautious [about] is importing products from China because their products normally lack quality. Our country could become the place where they throw away their junk.

“So, if we are careful, we will gain benefits, and if we are careless, the trade [agreement] will bring repercussions in the future,” he said.

Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said on Sunday that Wang’s official visit was not because of the US’ concern over the Ream Naval Base.

“However, during this visit, he will touch down on Cambodia ahead of other countries, which shows that the relationship between Cambodia and China is so deep. But I think we should not link his visit to the concern of the US. More or less, it’s just a coincidence,” he said.

He said while Cambodia-China relations are relatively close, one should not make such a comparison because it will not bring positive results for Cambodia.

“Cambodia needs relationships with all countries, whether it be with the US or China. If that relationship brings mutual interests with respect on sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, this would be good. But in intergovernmental relations, one must always think about national interests and balancing it with regional interests. But everybody always places their national interests higher,” Phea said.