Khmer Times

China-Cambodia ties have been deeper-rooted in 2020 after the two countries have worked together closely to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and have signed the bilateral free trade agreement, say Cambodian officials and academics.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said when China was in a critical stage in coping with the outbreak of COVID-19, Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen made a special visit to Beijing, capital of China, on Feb. 5 to voice the kingdom’s full support for China’s fight against the virus.

“Walking against the current to fight the COVID-19 by Samdech Techo Prime Minister has truly shown the strong friendship between Cambodia and China,” he told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“Helping each other during this difficult circumstance has further tightened our relationship and further deepened our cooperation in the anti-pandemic,” he added.

Bunheng recalled that the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Cambodia on Jan.

27, and to curb the virus, China dispatched a medical team, along with tons of medical supplies and equipment, to Cambodia to share their best practices and experiences on how to contain the virus.

“The cooperation between Cambodia and China in combating the COVID-19 is an ongoing activity and it not only benefits the two countries, but also contributes to the global effort in containing the spread of the disease,” he said.

Government chief spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia and China are true friends and that the joint COVID-19 fight clearly demonstrated the solid friendship and solidarity between the two countries.

“COVID-19 is a global pandemic and we have stayed together to solve, to fight against the disease,” he told Xinhua.

“We don’t waste time pointing fingers at this or that person over the outbreak because this is a human disease. Instead, we focus on protecting our people’s lives as the top priority.”

Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the joint COVID-19 fight between Cambodia and China is an excellent example for cooperation between countries and that the relationship between the two countries goes perfectly with a slogan saying that “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

“The bilateral cooperation between the two nations sends a strong message to the world that the Cambodia-China cooperation is a role model and should be copied by others for the common interest of the global humanity,” he told Xinhua.

Pov Sok, an advisor to the Cambodian prime minister and an author of the book entitled “Samdech Hun Sen: Cambodia’s Elegant Hero Who Goes Against the Tide to Fight COVID-19”, said through the joint COVID-19 fight, the Cambodia-China ties have rooted deeper and will become stronger and closer in the future.

“The joint COVID-19 fight is a new testament to the unbreakable relationship and solidarity between Cambodia and China,” he told Xinhua.

Kin Phea, director general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia, said the traditional friendship between the two countries has reached a new high after they have tided over this difficulty together.

“This has set a good example for international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic,” he told Xinhua.

“China’s international spirit and multilateralism in the fight against the COVID-19 has really responded to the world’s current trend, which requires a joint effort, solidarity, and honesty in the fight against this pandemic.”

Cambodia and China signed the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) on Oct. 12 during the official visit of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Phnom Penh.

Siphan said the bilateral FTA is a vivid example, proving that the two countries are the supporters of free trade and multilateralism.

“The FTA will contribute to boosting Cambodia’s economy and improving the livelihoods of the Cambodian people because it will give greater market access to Cambodia’s products,” he said.

“I believe that Chinese consumers’ demand will greatly boost the agricultural development and the tourism recovery in Cambodia.”

The trade volume between the two countries was valued at 9.42 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, according to the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia.

Ek Tha said the FTA is another legal instrument to improve bilateral trade and investment.

“There is no doubt that the FTA will be a new impetus for Cambodia’s trade and investment ties with China in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era,” he said.

He added that the bilateral FTA is a good match since Cambodia has raw material and potential of production such as fruit, fish and crops along with labor force. At the same time, China has investment capital, technology, and a large market, among others.

“Having said all these, it is not a bed of roses for both sides unless they join hands to address the remaining issues of technical, shipping, and logistics aspects,” he said.

Kin Phea said the traditional and strategic cooperation between Cambodia and China in both politics and economics as well as security will remain strong in the next five years and beyond.

“It is generally recognized that the relationship between the two countries has been moving on the right track and has born positive fruits for both countries, especially for Cambodia,” he said.

“As our leaders have said: Cambodia and China are iron friends.”

An influx of Chinese trade, investment, and tourists to Cambodia, particularly under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has greatly contributed to Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and social development, he said.

He said through the BRI, China has become the locomotive of regional and global development and connectivity.

In the context of rising protectionism and anti-globalisation sentiments, Kin Phea said, the BRI has been seen as a “global initiative” which will build a silk road of peace towards the economic globalisation that is vibrant, more open, more stable and more sustainable.

Ek Tha has strong conviction that the two countries’ relations and cooperation will continue to grow stronger in all fields, particularly in politics, economics, trade, investment, and tourism, among others.

“No one can break the relationship between our two countries. We are real iron-clad friends,” he said. Mao Pengfei, Nguon Sovan/Xinhua