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Chinese Foreign Minister hands over $150 million stadium and pledges $270 million in aid to Cambodia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen walks next to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as they attend the handover ceremony of the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, September 12, 2021. Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen walks next to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as they attend the handover ceremony of the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, September 12, 2021. Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday pledged $270 million in aid and three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Cambodia. He also formally handed over the newly built Morodok Techo National Stadium, which cost $150 million and is China’s largest infrastructure grant to Cambodia yet.

Speaking at a signing ceremony Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the handover represents the history of “ironclad friendship” between Cambodia and China, noting that Cambodia could not dream of having a luxury stadium without China’s assistance.

Hun Sen noted that China has helped to build hundreds of roads and bridges across Cambodia, noting that if the country “didn’t get help from China, who would help it?”

“Now, Cambodia has 24 cities and provinces where we could build stadiums, so other countries who want to help to build the stadium, Cambodia welcomes,” he said. “China provided aid to build seven bridges already and now they are preparing to build an eighth bridge in Cambodia, now Cambodia lacks many bridges, so please other countries, help to build.”   

A range of other aid agreements were signed Sunday including the Handover Certificate of Humanitarian Demining Materials to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority; the Cooperation Agreement on Hospitals Counterpart Support; providing pandemic aid; the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, granting $270 million in aid; a China-aided Cambodia landmine clearance project; and the Agreement on the Cooperation Projects of the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Special Fund, according to Hun Sen’s Facebook page.

The late King Father Norodom Sihanouk was responsible for the deep ties between the countries, said Hun Sen, noting that Cambodia continues to pursue the close relationship.

“Even right now if China does not help [Cambodia] could all the people be vaccinated?,” he asked.

Without China’s willingness to sell and donate vaccines to Cambodia, Hun Sen said, Cambodia could have vaccinated at most 2 million people thus far. “But tonight [Sunday night] the number of people who received the vaccination has reached 11.5 million, including 800,000 people who have been vaccinated with a third booster dose and 1.6 million children aged 12 to 17.

“Around the world, only Cambodia had the most vaccines to vaccinate the people in the capital. Even Beijing maybe has not vaccinated 99 percent of the people but Phnom Penh is vaccinated,” Hun Sen said. Cambodia has thus far received 26.8 million doses purchased and donated vaccines from China, Hun Sen said, adding that China will provide another three million doses for third dose vaccination.

Wang, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said that the national stadium is one of the biggest Chinese aid projects for Cambodia, constructed to represent the friendship between the two countries.

“I hope that Cambodia will practice their sports more in this Morodok Techo stadium. I believe that Cambodian athletes will win the most gold medals at the SEA Games in 2023,” said Wang through a translator.

He added that China and Cambodia are both developing countries and they will implement consensus between both countries to help Cambodia and Cambodian people and he hopes that Cambodia will develop more in the future.

Wang officially visited Cambodia for two days from Sept 12 to 13.

Thong Khon, Tourism Minister and vice-chairman of the Cambodian SEA Games Organizing Committee, said in an opening speech that the Morodok Techo National Stadium was built with a $150 million grant from China.

The stadium is built on 16.4 hectares of land, he said, and has a capacity of 60,000 people. It took 48 months to build, starting in 2017. In case of emergency, the stadium can be completely evacuated in 7 minutes.

“The luxury achievement is the biggest grant aid in Asia from our Chinese friends for this time. It is a friendship between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Chinese people who offered it to Samdech Techo, prime minister of Cambodia, to organize SEA Games and Asean Para-Games in 2023,” Khon said.

Wang also said Sunday that China will open free markets for the agriculture production of Cambodia and China will support Cambodia’s agriculture and import agriculture production from Cambodia.

“A difficulty of Cambodia’s is a difficulty of China’s, so we will work together with Cambodia to help Cambodia grow,” Wang said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi join a signing ceremony at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, September 12, 2021. Picture from Hun Sen's Facebook page.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi join a signing ceremony at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, September 12, 2021. Picture from Hun Sen’s Facebook page.

Hun Sen also said that he discussed with Wang about agriculture production including longan — a fruit whose import China last month briefly barred from Thailand, impacting the Cambodia market.

Pa Chanroeun, analyst and president of Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID) said at the surface level the handover and signing ceremony represent cooperation between the two countries.

“But if we look deeper, [Wang’s] political visits to Cambodia are to strengthen and expand the relations of Cambodia and China. They get stronger and stronger as the head of the government said: Cambodia and China have an ironclad friendship.”

“The visit of China’s high official also serves as a response to the visit of high officials from the US and UK,” Chanroeun said. In June, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab visited Cambodia — the first such visit in three decades.

Chanroeun noted that Cambodia will become chairman of Asean next year, so China continues to strengthen its friendship with Cambodia to strengthen its power in the region.

While Hun Sen has stressed he will take aid from any country, analysts have warned that the politics behind such aid can put Cambodia in a risky situation.

“Therefore, if Cambodia has too close a relationship with any one country, there will be an imbalance of foreign or international relations that may be hostile to the power or other big countries,” he said. “Especially in the face of competition for superpower influence in political geography, such as issues in Southeast Asia and conflicts in the South China Sea.”

Meas Nee, an independent analyst, said that China is strengthening its influence in Cambodia because of its geopolitical role. Tensions have been rising in the South China Sea, with China exerting dominance over the strategically important ocean shared by the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asean countries.

“China is looking to Cambodia in part because China wants to divide countries in Asean between democratic block and other blocks, especially in terms of American power that supports some countries which suffered because of the issues of the South China Sea,” Nee said. “So the appearance of China in Cambodia cannot escape the issue of political geography.”

“I think that when Cambodia becomes a chairman of Asean in next year, Cambodia will have more difficulties to face with the issue between China and America to solve some problems of some countries in Asean,” Nee said. “We don’t know whether when Cambodia becomes the chairman of Asean [next year] can stand as independent or what.”      

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