China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, visited Cambodia to reaffirm his country’s commitment to the Southeast Asian nation after its current prime minister handed over the position to his son, Hun Sen, following a one-sided election last month. Hun Sen’s spokesman Iang Sophleth expressed China’s willingness to cooperate with the newly appointed premier.
The election was a landslide victory for Hun Sen and his party, with Western countries and rights groups criticizing it as neither “free” nor “fair.” Wang Yi met with Hun Sen, his newly appointed son, and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, praising the election as free and fair.
Hun Manet will take office on August 22 when the new National Assembly adopts the new cabinet. Cambodia is a key Chinese diplomatic partner, helping to deflect criticism of Beijing within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China has acquired a greater role in Cambodian politics and economy, as seen in the many Chinese-funded projects, hotels, and casinos dotted across the landscape. China’s state-run banks have also financed airports, roads, and other infrastructure built with Chinese debt. Over 40% of Cambodia’s US$10 billion external debt is owed to China.
In June last year, China and Cambodia blocked a naval port expansion project, raising concerns in the US and others that it could give Beijing a strategically important military outpost on the Gulf of Thailand.
Hun Sen, who turned 71 last Saturday, said stepping down as prime minister was “not the end yet” and that he would hold other posts until at least 2033, taking him to half a century in office. He is expected to retain a large amount of control over his Cambodian People’s Party as Chairman and Senate President.