Looking back to the history, Cambodia-China has longest tied relationship with each other. It is in both historical and contemporary co-operation. The name of Funan, an ancient Cambodian capital city, was literally coined by Chinese trader, and many other names of Khmer Kings during Funan period were entirely Chinese vernacular. The most significant notion is the Chinese Ambassador Chau Takuan who visited Cambodia Empire of Angkor. He inscribed the situation there vivaciously. His thesis becomes important historical manuscript for students and researchers to understand the culture of Khmer Empire in that time prior to its declination and seizing by the Siam eventually.
Recently, many Chinese top officers came to Cambodia with the same intention is to strengthen the relationship and boost the economic co-operation between two countries. There are several reflections to this tie and its future trend.
After the cold war, the tie with China was promoted in both economic development and political bloc rivalry. China provided aids to build Cambodia infrastructure and other industrial development tools. During Songkum Reastr Niyum led by King Norodom Sihanouk, there were concrete legacies of China’s support left in many fields. But when the aura of American war spread out in the region, China became the leading supporter to the Khmer Rouge to rally against America. American imperialistic war and China’s hard line resistance to the influence of America in the region resulted intractable conflicts and catastrophe in Cambodia. China and America were very keen proportion of peace and war in Cambodia in that time.
Nonetheless, this proportion feasibly perpetuates to the presence. China foresees the political and geographical significance of Cambodia. The deep sea port of Cambodia possibly enables China to strategically use if there is some proximity of conflict happens in the China Sea. And Cambodia is in the heart of South East Asian nations which the centralization of China in Cambodia meaningful to the whole region. More than this, the effort of America in this region might draw much attention China has to play its role.
In term of economic co-operation, China sees clearly that boosting investment and providing financial support to Cambodia is not lost in their marginal benefit. At least, Cambodia has oil reserve in its shore for China to alternatively be able to get energy supplemental its current robust economic growth. But Cambodia-China relationship in this time shows us many interesting things more than that.
When Thailand is trespassing Cambodia territorial land, China’s presence in Cambodia is meaningful for Cambodia. However, the inspiring thing is that Vietnam might concern China’s presence in Cambodia more than Thailand. We can observe that there are several visits by Cambodian top leaders to Vietnam before the coming of Chinese delegates. And importantly, 50 Cambodian youths have been recently invited by Vietnam to celebrate the cultural program with Vietnamese youth in Ho Chi Minh City, just shortly before the statement of Chinese delegates with Cambodian top leaders about the exchange of cultural understanding and youth program.
Regardless of political tendency, China’s presence in Cambodia is not so good for its model of communist leadership, but it is in the perfect time for Cambodia to seek its refuge as Cambodia is lying in the middle of both Vietnam and Thailand. However, how China can maximize its benefit for Cambodia rather than its own benefit? Cambodia’s international relations plan hopes not to be solely relying on China. She has to exercise her freedom to associate with other Western countries and around the world.
PhD Student in Political Science
University of Hawaii at Manoa