PHNOM PENH —
With China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, heading to the United States next month for talks with President Barack Obama, Cambodian observers say their country would benefit from improved relations between the two powers.
The United States and China both play influential, but very different, roles in Cambodia, with the former a close friend in terms of educational and cultural exchanges, and the latter an economic backer.
While the United States gives support to civil society in Cambodia, China is the country’s biggest trading partner and patron of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Cambodian analysts and scholars say relations between the two powers may have knock-on effects for Cambodia’s economy, as well as for geopolitical issues, like the disputes in the South China Sea, in which Cambodia is involved as a member of Asean.
Chheang Vannarith, the co-founder and chairman of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies and a visiting professor at Leeds University, England, told VOA Khmer that the bilateral relationship between the United States and China is very important for the whole world, but especially for the Asia-Pacific region.
Improved relations will help political stability, security and development around the world, he said, adding that good communication between the two countries’ leaders was particularly important.
“Cambodia is in favor with China in terms of foreign policy, the strategic relationship and the economy, rather than the US,” he said. “So, if the meeting next month has a good result, it will provide positive results in the region and in Cambodia.”
Xi Jinping’s first official visit to Washington as premier comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries. American officials have said that the Chinese government is behind recent cyber attacks against US government agencies. The US has also expressed concerns about a crackdown on Chinese dissidents in recent months.
However, the strong economic interdependence between China and the United States remains strategically important, Neak Chandarith, the head of international studies at the Institute of Foreign Languages, said.
“I think the relationship between the two countries in the economic sector has been very good, as 10 percent of US debt is owed to China,” he said. “Moreover, China is the most important trading partner for Asean. ”
Ly Venghong, a master’s candidate at the Central European University, Hungary, said he thought cyber-security, economic issues and climate change would be on the agenda, as well as maritime disputes.
“I think among these four issues, the economy and the South China Sea disputes are related to Cambodia,” he said.
“If the meeting goes smoothly, Cambodia will gain two benefits from this meeting,” he added, explaining that if China’s economic situation is positive, Cambodia will receive more economic support, and the country would also benefit from an improved geopolitical climate.
Nineteen-year-old Hoeung Rathrachna, a junior studying international relations at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that if the US-China talks go smoothly, Cambodia will benefit in terms of both aid and trade.
The high-level meeting would hopefully improve the two countries’ relations, she said, adding, “The meeting is the first step for a better relationship in the future.”