Xi Jinping, China’s president, on Thursday signed 31 agreements with Cambodia, pledging an additional $237 million in aid and erasing almost $90 million in national debt.
The visit was Xi’s first to Cambodia as head of state and came amid heightened political tensions in Phnom Penh following a months-long boycott of parliament by the opposition and the targeting of its members by the courts in cases widely seen as politically motivated.
In addition to the aid and debt relief, Xi signed a military aid agreement worth almost $15 million and a number of economic accords.
Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen, told the Cambodia Daily Xi had described the Cambodian premier as an “ironclad friend of China” in their meeting.
Other agreements signed by the two countries included about $178 million in grant funding and $59 million in loans. The two countries also agreed on an intelligence sharing memoranda, the details of which were not made public.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said the aid and loans were vital for building essential infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and reservoirs.
An agreement that was expected to be signed during Xi’s visit – a $300 million plan to build a rice storage and drying facility – was stalled, Sok Puthyvuth, president of the Cambodian Rice Federation, told VOA Khmer.
However, he added, China had agreed to import 20,000 tons of Cambodian rice annually.
Meas Ny, a Phnom Penh-based analyst, said it was important that the government used the money “for the right purpose.”
“If the use of this money becomes a curse on its own people, I think that it could be a reason that the government will lose its popularity in the future,” he said.
In a joint statement following Xi’s visit, the two countries said of the contentious South China Sea dispute: “Both countries are of the view that the South China Sea issue is not a problem between China and ASEAN. It should be resolved through friendly consultation and peaceful negotiation by directly concerned sovereign nations.”