Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen doesn’t want to see Taiwan’s flag flying anywhere inside Cambodia, but he’ll gladly take Taiwan’s money.
Speaking at the Cambodian-Chinese Association dinner on February 4, Asia’s longest-serving ruler made clear that Cambodia would remain one of China’s strongest allies in Southeast Asia.
“May I ask all of you here to not raise any Taiwanese flag at a hotel or a reception during a Taiwanese national holiday,” he said.
Hun Sen made clear that he will continue to support Beijing’s “One China” principle as he referred to Taiwan as just another one of China’s provinces.
“Respecting the ‘One China principle’ is like respecting China’s sovereignty,” he said. “To put it simply, Taiwan is just a province of China. Allowing Taiwan to have its consulate or raise its flag in Cambodia would be just like recognizing Taiwan’s independence.”
Hun Sen also said that Cambodia considers Tibet to be part of China. While Taiwan is ruled independently, Tibet is ruled with a tight fist by Beijing, although it is formally called an autonomous region in China.
While Hun Sen dismissed any policy change toward China, he said Cambodia is still open for business with Taiwan.
“I would only allow Taiwanese to do business in Cambodia, but I won’t allow them raise the Taiwanese flag or set up an office here,” he said.
Support from China
China provides military aid, including uniforms, vehicles, loans to buy helicopters, and a training facility in southern Cambodia.
Between 2011 and 2015 Chinese firms funneled nearly $5 billion in loans and investment to Cambodia, accounting for around 70 percent of the total industrial investment in the country, according to The Economist.
Cambodia has been one of China’s staunchest supporters, and its backing for Beijing has drawn accusations that Phnom Penh is a proxy vote for Beijing in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
During a July 2016 meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, Cambodia blocked consideration of any statement on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the sea, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei all have rival claims. Taiwan’s claims predate and match those of China.
While the U.S. says it maintains neutrality in questions of sovereignty in disputes over the South China Sea, Washington supports freedom of navigation in the area and has sailed naval vessels through the important seaway to underscore its policy.
Moves by China to militarize the disputed islands in the sea have alarmed Washington and neighboring countries.
Some of the world’s busiest sea lanes traverse the South China Sea, which is also a rich fishing ground and may contain petroleum reserves under the sea bed.
Reported by Sel San for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.