Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni departed for a three-day visit to Beijing Monday, according to a state news agency. He is attending an international cultural event organized by the Chinese government and reportedly met with President Xi Jingping.
The visit will see him miss the official birthday events in Cambodia. The monarch turns 66 on May 14 when Cambodians will enjoy an annual three-day holiday to celebrate his birthday. The king has reigned for 15 years since his popular father, the late King Norodom Sihanouk, abdicated to make way for his son in 2004.
King Sihamoni generally does not address the nation during his birthday.
The monarch attended a small ceremony Sunday at the Khemarin Residence in Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace to celebrate his birthday. It included blessings from the Buddhist supreme patriarchs, the court’s Hindu Brahmins, royal family members, including the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, and state officials.
The king flew Monday morning on a special flight to Beijing where he was invited by Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations, according to Agence Kampuchea Presse. He is scheduled to return on May 16.
Some 1,500 attendees from 47 countries in Asia, including government leaders and heads of state, have been invited to the two-day conference, Chinese media reported. President Xi Jinping is due to address the conference, which has the theme ‘exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations and a community with a shared future’.
In Beijing, King Sihamoni held a bilateral meeting on Tuesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, telling the Communist Party leader that “Cambodian people will stand firmly with the Chinese people under any circumstances,” according to Chinese government news agency Xinhua.
“Xi called on the two countries to implement an action plan for building a community with a shared future for China and Cambodia,” Xinhua reported.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he had no further details on the monarch’s itinerary. “He is there representing Cambodian culture and civilization in engaging others across the region to build a foundation of Asian values,” he told VOA Khmer by phone.
History of Relations
Cambodia’s royal family has a history of good relations with the Chinese communist government going back to the reign of King Sihanouk. The government he led as Prince Sihanouk recognized China in 1958 and he enjoyed its support during the early 1970s after he was ousted in a coup d’état by General Lon Nol.
After his return to the throne of a constitutional monarchy in Cambodia in 1993 King Sihanouk remained a frequent guest of the Chinese government and he died in 2012 during one of his prolonged stays in Beijing. King Sihamoni and the Queen Mother still have access to medical care and a residence gifted to the late King Sihanouk by the Chinese government.
In recent years, the Hun Sen government has developed close relationships with China and has shored up its rule with Chinese economic and diplomatic support, while relations with Western governments have soured over a crackdown on opposition parties.
Last year, the government introduced a lèse-majesté law that punishes any criticism or insult of the king with a prison term of up to five years, a move that was condemned by human rights groups who said authorities could use the law to stifle freedom of speech.
Several people have been arrested since on accusations of lèse majesté. Exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month for claiming that King Sihamoni’s public letter urging people to vote in July last year was issued under duress from Prime Minister Hun Sen.