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Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

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Xi Jingping meets Hun Sen at Peace Palace on 2016. Hong Menea

Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to China will begin on Sunday and run until Wednesday.

Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch said Cambodia should use the trip to strengthen economic, trade and investment ties with China.

He said that unlike the West, China has not violated Cambodia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and internal affairs, and it can help the Kingdom counter any punitive economic measures imposed by the EU and the US.

“Cambodia needs strong economic growth and development as some countries are imposing economic sanctions. Cambodia will not kneel to Western countries, Cambodia needs one side [China] to counter that [economic] effect."

“If the EU withdraws the Everything But Arms (EBA) [preferential agreement] from Cambodia, the Kingdom needs to find another replacement because it cannot stand by and watch its economy collapse,” Touch said.

The prime minister’s visit comes as the Cambodian economy steels itself in preparation for the likely withdrawal of the EU’s EBA privileges this year, as well as calls this week by US senators to withdraw the Kingdom’s general system of preferences.

The punitive measures are expected to hurt Cambodian exports and ultimately the economy.

The measures come in response to what Western leaders claim is an erosion of democracy in the Kingdom following the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), as well as attacks on freedom of the press.

However, the Cambodian government has said it regards the measures as meddling in the Kingdom’s internal affairs.

This has led analysts to suggest that Hun Sen’s trip presents a good opportunity for him to lessen Cambodia’s reliance on the West and pivot towards China.

Touch also questioned why the US and the EU had not pressured other countries in the region over their poor human rights and democracy records.

“Thailand has launched a coup and the Philippines has committed a lot of extrajudicial killings, so why not them?"

“We need to find a country that has the same goals, but does not interfere in our internal affairs and does not blatantly put pressure on us,” he said.

On Monday, the prime minister informed a crowd attending the opening ceremony of Phnom Penh’s third ring road – a 53km, $273 million project backed in part by Chinese government funding – of his impending trip to the Asian giant.

“I would like to inform the people here and across the nation that on Sunday 20th, I will leave Phnom Penh for Beijing in order to pay an official visit to China until the 23rd."

“There are many issues, especially the economy, trade and investment relations which will be the core issues of the discussion between me and President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang,” he said.