As China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 22, Prime Minister Hun Sen recalled that Cambodia – one of 150 countries and 32 international organisations to join the initiative – had only done so because it met three conditions.

Speaking at an event marking the occasion and the inauguration of a Chinese-owned tyre production facility in Preah Sihanouk province, he said each of these conditions must support national interests and align with the major aspects of Cambodian’s foreign policy.

“Any agreement we are party to must serve the interests of peace and development. It must not confront or threaten any other nation, as our neutrality is implicitly stated in the Constitution. Thirdly, it must respect ASEAN centrality,” he explained.

“Let me make it clear: The successful 32nd SEA Games which just ended would not have been possible without the BRI. We would not have had the foundational infrastructure we needed to host the games,” he said, citing the Morodok Techo National Stadium built with a grant from China as an example.

Hun Sen offered several other examples of the achievements made possible by the BRI, such as the new international airport in Siem Reap – which will be inaugurated in October – and the forthcoming fibre optic internet cable from Hong Kong to Preah Sihanouk.

“There are many ways in which Cambodia has benefited from the agreement, including through grants and loans for many development projects. Thousands of kilometres of roads have been built, or are under construction, along with bridges across the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Basaac rivers,” he added.

He noted that many other ASEAN members have also benefitted since the BRI was launched in 2013, with $30 billion injected into the initiative.

He said it is clear that the goal of the BRI is merely development, not as a means to block the national growth or oppose any other nation.

“Therefore, I take this opportunity to celebrate the 10th anniversary of China’s BRI,” he said.

“If we look at the current policy of China, there is no part that declares itself the enemy of any other country, despite some other nations looking for ways to hinder China or go against it. This is why the BRI keeps expanding,” he added.

Chiding some countries that had repeatedly accused Cambodia of permitting a Chinese military presence at Ream Naval Base, Hun Sen explained that, unlike other countries, China had never attempted to influence the Kingdom’s decision-making.

“President Xi Jinping has never asked Cambodia to maintain or not maintain a relationship with any country. This demonstrates our independence. Regardless, some people continue to suggest that Cambodia is the puppet of China or Vietnam,” he said.

“They can say whatever they like, but the truth is that Cambodia applies only rule-based independent policies,” he said.