Phnom Penh (FN), Sep. 14 – Cambodian prime minister Hun Manet begins his official visit to China today, his first official visit overseas since taking office, the second official visit by a Cambodian prime minister to China within this same year. With these and more high-level exchanges in the pipeline, 2023 is all the more outstanding as a year of great promise, for Cambodia for obvious reasons, and for China too as we celebrate the 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties and the China-Cambodia Friendship Year.
The Friendship Year was launched while Samdech Techo Hun Sen was in China last February, when leaders of both countries agreed on working together on a “diamond cooperation framework” with six priority areas and further advancing a high quality, high-level and high standard community of shared future in the new era.
Chinese and Cambodians have been brothers and sisters for millennia. Our community with a shared future is firmly rooted in our time-honoured friendship going back to the dawn of times, with images of Chinese soldiers fighting side by side with Khmer warriors on Angkor sculptures and untold stories of Cambodian heritage recorded in ancient Chinese archives.
We have an iron-clad bond.
It is anchored in the profound political mutual trust between the two countries featuring, first and foremost, equality and mutual benefit.
It is strengthened through the test of the fight against COVID19 in which Cambodia’s performance is beyond any doubt not shy of any peers.
It is sped up by the many roads and bridges we have built, such as the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway that cuts the travel time between the economic powerhouses by more than half.
It is enriched by projects like the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, a flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, now home to more than 170 companies, creating over 30,000 local jobs.
And it is highlighted by the many power plants we have built that make power outages in Cambodia an increasingly diminished memory of the past.
With the coming into effect of the China-Cambodia Free Trade Agreement, RCEP, initiatives such as the Fish and Rice Corridor, Industry and Technology Corridor, both of which highlights of the diamond cooperation framework as a result of the last official visit, and the coming official visit by Samdech Thipadei Hun Manet, more promise is in the making.
After the programs in Beijing, Samdech Thipadei Hun Manet will travel to Nanning for the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. While the bilateral story is most exciting, the bigger picture with China-ASEAN relations is riveting as well.
China-ASEAN two-way trade is witnessing a robust rebound after the pandemic. ASEAN became China’s top trading partner in 2020 and is holding strong. Amidst sluggish world economy and weak demand, China’s trade with ASEAN countries topped the whole of 2022 in the first 7 months of 2023, to a staggering 3.59 trillion RMB, or USD 500 billion.
It’s the same story with investment. By July, cumulative two-way investment reached USD 380 billion. In the first half of this year, 7 ASEAN countries are among top 10 BRI destinations for Chinese investment. Chinese FDI accounts for 6,500 companies in ASEAN countries, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
There is good news on infrastructure too. The 142.3 km Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway had its test trial days ago, cutting journey between the two cities from over three hours to around 40 minutes. Sounds familiar? Imagine what a future China-Laos-Thailand-Cambodia railway can do to better lives for us all.
And the list goes on, to the emerging sectors of electric vehicles, to RCEP taking effect in all 15 countries, and China-ASEAN Free Trade Area 3.0.
While in Jakarta, Chinese premier Li Qiang voiced readiness to work with ASEAN to share development opportunities, jointly tackle challenges, and enable East Asia to continue functioning as a major engine for global development.
And soon in Beijing and in Nanning, we will have new opportunities to explore the immense possibilities for China and Cambodia and ASEAN at large.
These past and coming days hold a great promise, for us, together.
Yi Fan is a Beijing-based international affairs commentator