WASHINGTON - Although former king Norodom Sihnaouk engendered a strong Cambodian relationship with China, observers said Monday that his passing would likely not weaken the modern ties between the two.
Nor would many things change, with the monarchy remaining an institution, royal officials said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who traveled to Beijing on Monday with King Norodom Sihamoni, Sihanouk’s son, will retain strong ties with China, said Prince Sisowath Thomico, Sihanouk’s personal secretary.
China’s influence in Cambodia has greatly increased in recent years, with billions of dollars in aid and projects, and Cambodia aligning itself often with China’s geopolitical ambitions.
“The relationship between China and Cambodia today is stable and will be progressing, stronger and stronger,” Thomico told “Hello VOA” Monday. “In this sense… Hun Sen is the successor.”
Sihanouk considered Hun Sen his successor in leading the country as well, Thomico said. Sihanouk abdicated the throne in 2004, passing it to his son. But Sihamoni, a former ambassador to Unesco, has remained out of public life and political affairs.
Son Soubert, an adviser to King Sihamoni, told “Hello VOA” that the monarchy remains, giving Cambodians an identity that provides political stability under a kingdom.
“Political parties and the government can change, but the institution of the monarchy remains, and the king, as the son, has received much advice and learned very much from his father,” he said. “So all of us with the queen mother can remain in a stable situation.”
Both guests on the show remembered Sihanouk’s peaceful shepherding of Cambodia into post-colonial independence, prior to the country’s entanglement in war and the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
Prince Thomico downplayed media reports that focused on the king’s involvement with the Khmer Rouge, whose cause he joined after he was deposed in a US-backed coup in 1970.
“There are no documents linking him to the Khmer Rouge,” the prince said. “It was only that the Khmer Rouge aligned themselves with him in struggling for independence.”
Sihanouk was trying to regain the throne after the coup, Thomico said, but after the Khmer Rouge took over, he asked to break from them, and they refused. Thomico called the position of the former king “complicated” and “unclear.”