China has agreed to provide assistance to Cambodia if the European Union implements trade sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation over human rights violations and rule of law issues, according to Cambodia’s prime minister.
Hun Sen announced the assurance on his Facebook page on Monday as he was returning from Beijing, where he attended a forum about China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.
He said China made the pledge during his talks with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, but he did not say what form the assistance would take.
In February, the EU announced it was launching action that could suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to its market because of “severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights”.
The EU grants duty-free and quota-free access for items other than weapons to Cambodia and other developing countries.
At that time, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called the decision an “extreme injustice” that ignored steps the government has taken to improve civil and political rights.
It said it “is committed to continue enhancing the democratic space, human rights [and] labour rights” and that the European move “takes the risk of negating 20 years’ worth of development efforts” that had helped pull millions of Cambodians out of poverty.
Describing ties between the two counties “as firm as steel”, Hun Sen added that China – Cambodia’s closest ally – pledged a 600 million yuan ($89m) military assistance grant.
During his stay in Beijing, Hun Sen met several Chinese businessmen and many investors agreed to invest in Cambodia soon.
In January, the Cambodian leader made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid as part of a three-year assistance fund and that the two countries also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to $10bn by 2023.