Premier's visit enhances China- Cambodia ties, deepens LMC mechanism
By Rabi Sankar Bosu
Without doubt, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's official visit to Cambodia at the invitation of Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen from January 10 to 11 is a perfect example of good neighbors and good friends working to advanced bilateral ties in the new era of globalization. It is worth noting that Premier Li's visit is the first diplomatic trip by a Chinese leader to a relatively small neighboring country this year. Li's visit signifies China’s deepen cooperation with the countries participating in the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism, and it will take the Sino-Cambodia relationship to a much higher level.
During his two-day trip, Premier Li and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen co-chaired the second bi-annual LMC leaders' meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on January 10. With the theme of “Our River of Peace and Sustainable Development", the LMC summit saw the participation of Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Myanmar Vice President Myint Swe, Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, together with leaders of Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, meet the press after the 2nd Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Phnom Penh, January 10, 2018. [Photo: Xinhua/Li Tao]
Aiming to bridge gaps between the countries along the Lancang-Mekong River, Premier Li Keqiang proposed the LMC framework during the 17th China-ASEAN leaders' meeting in Myanmar in November 2014. The LMC consists of six countries, namely China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, which are connected by the Lancang-Mekong River. Originating in China’s Qinghai province, the Mekong River, known as the Lancang in Chinese, binds together the more than 326 million people who live along the 5,000-km-long waterway into a community with a shared future of equality, sincerity, mutual assistance, and kinship.
Since the first LMC meeting, held at the International Asia-Pacific Convention Center in Sanya City, in south China's Hainan province on March 23, 2016, the LMC mechanism has gained great importance and received extensive support from the governments and peoples of the six Mekong countries. Over the past two years, all six members deepened their regional cooperation in fields as diverse as transportation, environmental governance, disaster prevention, cultural communication, tourism, industry, agriculture, resource sharing, and fighting transnational crimes. “The LMC has grown into a sub-regional cooperation framework with great potential and vitality," Li said in an op-ed published on January 9 in the Cambodian newspaper Khmer Times.
During the second LMC Summit, the leaders of the six LMC countries reviewed the progress made through the Mekong sub-regional cooperation mechanism and mapped out the blueprint for the future development with a strong emphasis on the commitment to maintain peace, stability, sustainable development, and prosperity. They noted with satisfaction that most of the 45 Early Harvest Projects identified at the First LMC Leaders' Meeting and the 13 initiatives put forward by China at the Second LMC Foreign Ministers' Meeting have been completed or have progressed substantially, and they highly appreciated China's establishment of an LMC Special Fund to support the projects.
In the Phnom Penh Declaration, the leaders put the spotlight on the importance of narrowing the socio-economic development gap between the six nations, in support of ASEAN community building as well as advancing South-South Cooperation to further contribute to the implementation of the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The leaders' meeting also endorsed the LMC Five-Year Plan of Action (2018-2022), which will serve as a guiding document for LMC's future development. It also released the second batch of cooperative projects and reports of the six Joint Working Groups on the key priority areas.
In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Hun Sen said, “We have gained momentum in making the LMC mechanism play a vital role in supporting the interests of the Mekong countries. This will allow them to extract maximum benefits from the ASEAN Economic Community, especially with regard to China, which is already a strong supporter of ASEAN integration and global multilateralism.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that the LMC seeks to enhance peace and stability in the region, specifically by raising the living standards of those who are most in need. "In recent years China has benefited enormously from the peaceful and stable environment in our neighboring countries, and we are more than willing to shoulder the responsibility to lend support to them and develop hand-in-hand with them," Li said. Since its official launch in March 2016, the LMC has undeniably become a “cooperation-based mechanism” that has been pushing the cooperation between China and five Mekong countries into “the age of high-speed rail.”
With regard to China-Cambodia ties, the two countries have been good friends for a long time. The two countries established diplomatic relations on July 19, 1958. This relationship has withstood the test of time, it has continued to blossom with each passing year. Undoubtedly, the friendship between the former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and then Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk is the bedrock of the contemporary and future cooperation between the two countries. The current generation of leadership has nurtured the already strong friendship.
Since Cambodia is an ASEAN member as well as a traditional friend of China, China attaches much importance to deepening political and trade relations with Cambodia. In recent years, Cambodia has been giving unconditional support to China on issues concerning the South China Sea, including the arbitration case brought on the Philippines in 2016. During his historical visit to Cambodia in October 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Cambodia an “ironclad” partner and Prime Minister Hun Sen said his country is China’s “most trustworthy friend.” Notably, a mutual bond of friendship is also bringing the two nations together as evidenced by Cambodia’s unwavering support for the Belt and Road Initiative.
Li’s visit to Cambodia holds special significance as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Cambodia diplomatic relations. The importance of the China-Cambodia friendship can be understood in Premier Li’s opinion piece in the Khmer Times, in which he said "We have given each other mutual support throughout the years when it comes to issues concerning our core interests, major concerns and principles of national dignity, sovereignty and independence."
Over the past 60 years, China-Cambodia ties have become a model of country-to-country relations. The Sino-Cambodian relationship is a natural alliance, an alliance based on mutual respect, mutual learning, mutual interest, and mutual support. Suos Yara, a Member of Parliament from the Cambodian People’s Party, said, “Although China is much bigger and stronger than Cambodia, both countries treat each other equally and with mutual respect.”
During his stay in Cambodia, Li met with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and held talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen. On January 11 at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, the Chinese Premier and Hun Sen witnessed the signing of 19 agreements and memorandums of understanding in such areas as infrastructure connectivity, human resource building, agriculture, economic development, electricity, and health. The agreements include a concessional loan for the 200- kilometer long Phnom Penh-Preah Sihanouk Expressway, financing cooperation for the new Phnom Penh airport, and agreements on building and rehabilitating infrastructure. In addition to these achievements, China’s Great Wall Industry Corporation and Cambodia’s Royal Group of Companies agreed to launch the Southeast Asian nation’s first communications satellite.
Over the years, China has become Cambodia’s biggest aid donor, source of foreign investment, trade partner, and source of foreign tourists. The attention given by China towards supporting Cambodia is further demonstrated by China’s pledge of more than 1.2 billion yuan ($184 million) in aid for other projects. The two leaders also discussed how to encourage Chinese tourists to visit Cambodia, and how exports of sugar to China can continue to grow.
Notably, both countries called for adopting the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which reflects the close Sino-Cambodian relationship. Before wrapping up his fruitful visit to Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia, granted a royal audience to the Chinese Premier at the Royal Palace.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said, “China and Cambodia are good neighbors, good friends, good partners, and good brothers”. Cambodia needs big investment and help for its infrastructure development, so China's experience in road, railway construction, and hydroelectric dams is very helpful to the impoverished Southeast Asian country. The traditional ties of friendship between China and Cambodia are a treasure for their peoples. It is hoped that Li’s successful trip, as well as China’s ongoing assistance and investment, will soon bear more fruits in Cambodia.
(Rabi Sankar Bosu, Secretary, New Horizon Radio Listeners’Club, based in West Bengal, India)