PHNOM PENH—China has pledged millions of dollars in new aid to the Cambodian military, just weeks after the United States froze a planned delivery of military trucks to the Southeast Asian country, officials said.
The aid package, announced during talks between Cambodian Premier Hun Sen and Chinese President Hu Jintao alongside the opening of the World Expo in Shanghai, will comprise 257 new military cars, 50,000 uniforms, and 100 million yuan (U.S. $15 million) in aid.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and a senior Cambodian delegation returned to Cambodia early May 2.
"This will help Cambodia continue developing its military and economy, especially in army training," Hor Namhong, foreign minister and deputy prime minister, told a news conference at Phnom Penh International Airport.
The Chinese president also accepted an invitation to visit Cambodia "in the near future," Hor Namhong said.
Bilateral talks in Shanghai focused on strengthening ties and exchanging high-level visits, he said, adding that Beijing and Phnom Penh have collaborated to fight terrorism and cooperated within regional and international frameworks.
In April, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration announced it was suspending a shipment of military vehicles to Cambodia, after Cambodia in December repatriated 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum-seekers to China despite an outcry from Western countries and the United Nations.
Cambodia said it expelled the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority living mainly in northwesternmost China, because they had illegally entered the country.
Washington said the deportations would harm bilateral ties with the United States, though they may have strengthened relations with Beijing—which regards the Uyghurs as possible terrorists linked to deadly ethnic riots in July 2009.
The Uyghurs deported under intense Chinese pressure had fled to Cambodia in search of asylum after witnessing and documenting violent ethnic riots in the restive western Chinese region of Xinjiang this summer that left nearly 200 dead.
They had warned the UNHCR that they feared long jail terms or even the death penalty if they were sent back to China.
China signed off on more than U.S. $1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia during a visit immediately after the deportations by Vice President Xi Jinping. That assistance, including 14 agreements for grants and loans, ranges from help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples.Strings attached?
A spokesman for the Cambodian opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Yim Sovann, cautioned that the aid could come with strings attached.
"It depends whether the government knows how to use the aid effectively, and whether the assistance comes without damaging political and economic conditions," he said.
Chinese-Cambodian trade totaled more than U.S. $900 million in 2009, while China has invested more than U.S. $1 billion in Cambodian hydroelectric plants and more in other infrastructure projects.
China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying it is "the unswerving policy of China to constantly deepen and expand the comprehensive, cooperative partnership between the two nations."
Sino-Khmer relations began in 1958.
During the 1970s, Maoist China was one of only a few nations to maintain diplomatic links with Pol Pot's ruling Khmer Rouge, who were blamed for the deaths of up to 2 million people.
Closer ties developed in the 1990s after the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991, which paved the way for Cambodia's first general elections in decades.
Former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk has always maintained close personal ties with Beijing and keeps a second home in the Chinese capital.
China wrote off significant loans to the Cambodian government eight years ago, making new loans and grants worth U.S. $600 million during the visit to Cambodia of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April 2006.
Original reporting in Khmer by To Serey. Translated by Uon Chhin. Khmer service director: Kem Sos. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.