Phnom Penh (FN), Mar. 30 – “Reforming at home and making friends abroad based on the spirit of independence” is the strategic vision rendered by Prime Minister Hun Sen in formulating Cambodia’s foreign policy and strategy. In this context, the prime minister emphasises that Cambodia needs to make friends with all countries, but she will never compromise or surrender her sovereignty and national security in exchange for foreign assistance and/or trade and investment preferences. However, some international media outlets have failed to recognise Cambodia’s resolution in defending her national sovereignty and independence and promoting her national interests. When Cambodia is working graciously to enhance relationship with China and other countries based on her foreign policy motto, they allege that the Cambodian government are submissive to China for their own gains. For example, I have recently seen a news article with the title, “Taiwan Shows Rapid Response to Coronavirus As Hun Sen Plays Politics”, which was published on 17 March 2020 by The Geopolitics. This article painted a picture of Cambodia’s foreign policy, which is starkly different from the Kingdom’s adopted strategic foreign policy vision. The article argues, “Hun Sen’s need to keep Chinese trade and investment flowing is paramount... Hun Sen makes little pretence that the risks to the public (the risk of the novel Coronavirus or Covid-19 to the public) are more important than keeping China, his last major internationally ally, on board.” This is a false accusation, and I strongly disagree to this statement.

China is the biggest source of trade and foreign investment to Cambodia. Deepening economic ties with China has helped Cambodia achieve strong annual economic growth with an average rate of more than 7 per cent for over the last two decades. However, enhancing bilateral ties with China does not mean that Cambodia needs to compromise her independence and sovereignty. Cambodia’s independence and self-determination as a sovereign state remains intact. The country’s foreign policy is absolutely pro- Cambodia. Cambodia’s extension of her support to China and to her other friends in fighting against the novel Coronavirus outbreak is based on her moral and international obligations. The country’s social moral value is “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” We could not stand by watching our friends struggling in the crisis alone. We need to demonstrate our solidarity in the fight against this unprecedented global health crisis. It is a global issue, which requires a global solution.

In light of this spirit, Cambodia has been supporting our friends during this toughest time to protect the health and well-being of our peoples from the Covid-19 pandemic. During the initial outbreak of the virus in Wuhan city of China, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen mulled for a visit to the outbreak’s epicentre and became the first foreign leader to visit Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, while the rest of the world were rushing to get their nationals out of Wuhan and started to impose travel restrictions on Chinese travellers. The prime minister’s refusal to repatriate Cambodian nationals from Wuhan or to impose travel restrictions on Chinese citizens demonstrates Cambodia’s solidarity with the Chinese government, who were fighting to contain the virus. Moreover, although Cambodia was fully aware of the potential risks, the country took very bold and decisive actions to assist those in desperate needs by allowing Holland America-owned MS Westerdam cruise ship to dock in Sihanoukville after six countries had denied its entry to their ports due to the concern over the possible spread of Covid-19. Cambodia’s decision vividly shows her resolution in fulfilling her international obligations by helping all the passengers and crews who are citizens from various countries of the world.

We believe that everyone’s life is valuable even during times of crisis and that we need to treat them with respect, dignity and without discrimination. Although Cambodia is a small country with limited resources, we have a big heart to offer to the international community.

To reciprocate Cambodia’s favour, our friends have also assisted Cambodia in our efforts to contain, detect and respond to the rapid spread of Covid-19. Their assistance included financial support, medical equipment and experts. China has taken the lead by sending medical teams and donating medical supplies to Cambodia. On 23 March 2020, the first medical team from China landed at Phnom Penh International Airport, bringing along with them huge amount of medical equipment and supplies to assist the Cambodian government in fighting against the pandemic. The global pandemic has not deterred the two countries from holding their annual joint military exercise known as the Golden Dragon. Both countries share the common view that international military cooperation play important roles in crisis responses and rescue, be it a natural disaster or a pandemic like Covid-19. Cambodia has also received assistance from other countries. Germany has provided USD 1.6 million and has vowed to cooperate with relevant public health institutions in Cambodia to address various upcoming challenges arising from Covid-19. Japan provided huge medical supplies to Cambodia, while the United States has pledged USD 2 million to assist Cambodia’s efforts in fighting against the pandemic. Cambodia greatly appreciates all the assistance provided from our friends for the humanitarian cause, and we appreciate that all our friends recognise Cambodia’s contributions to the international community.

In this toughest time of Covid-19, the world has truly seen the strong bond of relationship that Cambodia has with our friends including China. The strong bond of relationship between Cambodia and China is underpinned by both sides’ upholding the spirit of equal sovereignty, mutual respect and trust, and win- win cooperation. This cordial relationship is not built in one day; it has been constantly nurtured by the two states for several decades. China has neither attached conditions to its foreign investment and aid to Cambodia nor has it interfered in Cambodia’s domestic political affairs. Such a policy has yielded positive development in China-Cambodia bilateral relations. China respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia, and the latter has consistently supported the former’s One China policy. Cambodia recognises the government of the People Republic of China (PRC) as the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Cambodia regards the three territories as the special administrative regions of China. Cambodia strictly adheres to this policy in all circumstances.

Suos Yara is a Member of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia.