PHNOM PENH —
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong is in China this week for official talks aimed at strengthening trade and security ties.
Hor Namhong told reporters before his departure both sides want to see trade between them increased to $5 billion in 2017, including increased imports by China of Cambodian rubber, cassava powder, pepper and sugar.
China also aims to boost the livelihood of Cambodians living in remote areas and provide scholarships for Cambodian university students.
Hor Namhong also dismissed reports that he was visiting China in response to last week’s talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry. “I told him that Cambodia was China’s friend,” Hor Namhong said. “Everyone knows that. But Cambodia also wants to be close with the US.”
Hor Namhong told reporters Cambodia remains neutral on regional issues like the South China Sea. While Cambodia has a strategic relationship with China, Prime Minister Hun Sen is also seeking closer ties to Japan, he said.
Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, welcomed the government’s attempts at diplomacy with the US and China. Improved relations with the US will not hurt Cambodia, she told VOA Khmer. The US wants to strengthen human rights and democracy in Cambodia, and that’s a good thing, she said.
“Things are going to be better when Cambodia tries to improve human rights and democratic values,” she said.
Aid from China comes without overt conditions, but Chinese investments are deeply embedded throughout Cambodia. “We should examine that clearly,” she said. “There are no conditions concerning human rights or democracy, as with other nations, such as the EU and the US. We still see other relations, such as their coming in to invest, something that is hidden. This point, we should also take into account.”
Kerry made clear the US position on human rights, freedoms and good governance, she said. After talks with Hun Sen and Hor Namhong last week, Kerry said progress in those areas was “critical” to a fuller bilateral relationship with the US. In discussions with civil society organizations, he reiterated the same, Chak Sopheap said.