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China Bolsters Cambodia Presence

The millions of dollars in aid announced by China earlier this month is a clear signal it is building up its economic and political presence in the region, analysts said Tuesday.

The $257 million in aid—the largest pledge of any donation made at an annual meeting earlier this month—“is economically, politically and strategically for the entire interest of China,” said Lao Monghay, a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission.

China’s pledge was larger than Cambodia’s typical top donor, Japan, a traditional ally of the United States, which gave $91 million in 2007.

“China is likely construction ramparts to protects itself” with countries around it, Lao Monghay said. “Except Japan. Japan fits with the United States.”

China has alliances with Russia in terms of energy and munitions, and it has built strong links with five countries in middle Asia along its western border. It enjoys a good relationship with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

In so doing, it has built up support for its policies among the countries it helps, Lao Monghay said.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jin Feng declined to comment, but Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yiep said the ruling party has worked to strengthen a relationship that has been good since the 13th Century.

Yim Sovann, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said Cambodia might have given “too many economic concessions” to Chinese investors ahead of the aid announcement.

“We must be careful in enjoying this assistance,” he said.

In the weeks leading up to the aid package, China sent a series of high-level delegations to Cambodia, promising the construction of a Senate building, signing an agreement on security cooperation and pushing for the exploration of iron ore.

Following China’s aid announcement, Cambodia allowed 18 hours of radio programming from China, in English, Khmer and Chinese, on its airwaves, making it the largest program of its kind.

Cheam Yiep said the increase in aid was explained by the long friendship between the two countries and the recognition of Cambodia as a weaker country in need of help. He recognized China was working in its own interest, he said, “but Cambodia is not stupid.”

Finance Minister Keat Chhon, in a Dec. 5 speech, put it this way: “China is a good neighbor country of Cambodia, and China knows what Cambodia needs.”