Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that China will give Cambodia almost $600 million in aid to support election infrastructure, and education and health projects.
The agreement was finalized after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Mongolia.
“The Chinese Prime Minister announced grant aid to Cambodia amounting to 3.6 billion Yuan, or about $600 million, for the three years from 2016 to 2018,” Hun Sen said. He added that he had requested the aid in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, during his participation in the 11th ASEM summit this week.
China, a key ally of Cambodia in the region and the Southeast Asian nation’s largest donor, in return expects support in international forums, including in discussions over the future of the South China Sea.
The announcement follows a landmark ruling at an arbitration court in The Hague which found that China had no historic claims to areas of the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines.
Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University, said the close relationship between China and Cambodia was due to an alignment of interests, most recently with Cambodia’s tacit approval of China’s actions in the South China Sea.
“As we know foreign policy has no friends or enemies, but only exists because of [states’] interests. So perhaps this is because of the South China Sea, that Cambodia receives $600 million”, he said. “That’s the first point, and the second point is that Cambodia needs grant aid money to develop the country.”
Chea Vannath, a longtime analyst and Khmer Rouge survivor, welcomed the move by Beijing.
“We are friends rather than enemies. China is a superpower and has been a great friend since [the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk],” she said.
The money will be partly spent on organizing elections slated for 2017 and 2018.
However, Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel claimed that numerous roadblocks ahead any semblance of free and fair elections could take place, such as the jailing of opposition members, the recent murder of government critic Kem Ley and outstanding charges against the leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“All of this creates a political atmosphere where the preparation of free and fair elections cannot take place,” he said.