Cambodia needs to recalibrate its relationships with the US and EU, or risk becoming overly reliant on China.
Cambodia’s foreign policy has seen remarkable improvements after 1993 when the country held its UN-organized national election. The Cambodian government’s efforts to integrate Cambodia into the region and the world have resulted in Cambodia’s membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004. The Kingdom has overall had good relations with its neighbors and other countries in Southeast Asia and beyond.
However, as a small state Cambodia has limited strategic space to maneuver and its foreign policy dynamics face considerable challenges. The country is seen to lean toward China, its closest ally and its largest economic and military benefactor, at the expense of good relations with other countries. Cambodia’s close embrace of China has become more evident since 2012. From blocking ASEAN joint statements to supporting Beijing’s One China policy, Cambodia continues to demonstrate its willingness to embrace China. In turn, China has reciprocated through increasing “no strings attached” aid and loans to Cambodia.
Both countries upgraded their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2010, and as of now China is Cambodia’s largest foreign direct investor. The trade volume between the two countries was valued at $5.8 billion in 2017, by which time China had given approximately $4.2 billion to Cambodia in the form of aid and soft loans.
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