|Chinese President Xi Jinping|
|Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang|
Historically, China used to have good relationship with Cambodia perhaps since prehistory era. Many Khmer Kings or Queens and kingdoms' names were pronounced as Chinese such as Funan, zenla, and King Huntien or Queen Livyi and so on. And during Angkor Era, a famous Chinese Diplomat Chu Daoquan had stayed in the City of Angkor for about a year, and he recorded about the daily lives, culture, and the Khmer court around that time. And after Angkor Era, the relation with China apparently faded away; however, Chinese people came to settle in Cambodia permanently since then. Politically and militarily, during this time Vietnam and Thailand had dominated Cambodia; all Khmer Kings and Queens were crowned by the wishes of the two countries. But after Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953, China's relationship with Cambodia has quickly grown until today. For Vietnam, its century-influence over Cambodia was wiped out overnight when Cambodia was placed under France's protectorate in 1863. But the Vietnamese influence over Cambodia started to re-emerge after the end of World War II, in 1945 until today. Thus, Which country has more influence over the current regime in Cambodia?
After aggressive economic reform from Communist planing economy to free market economy since 1980, China has proved itself as the second largest economic power in the world, just behind the US. As China economy has grown, its power and influence have also spread across the region and the world. Cambodia that used to be a friendly state with China over a half a century, now has became a China's staunch ally in the region. In fact, China wants Cambodia to be its springboard in order to convey its political and economic influence into Southeast Asia and eventually to replace the Soviet-US hegemony in the past. China used to spend billions of dollars to support Cambodian waring factions in the past from 1970 until the Paris Peace Accord 1991.
Since then, China has replaced its foreign policy toward Southeast Asia, especially toward Cambodia, from a source of military powerhouse to a source of economic powerhouse for Cambodia. So far, China has invested billions of dollars into almost every sector of Cambodian economy--infrastructures, agriculture, mineral industry, banking, tourism, special economic and so on. Along with its enormous economic investment, China has bankrolled billions of dollar to support the current regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen in terms of soft loans and financial assistance in exchange for political influence that China has needed for the region in order to encounter the new US-Vietnam alliance, the ASEAN's powerhouse, and especially to block all attempts to internationalize the issue of South China Sea which China has preferred to solve the problem bilaterally. To keep China's bankroll opened, Hun Sen had appeased China during the ASEAN Summit last year in Phnom Penh. As the rotated president of ASEAN, Hun Sen had blocked all members' proposals to include the South China issue into the summit's agenda, and he made a bogus statement regarding the meeting among the ASEAN members as the successful summit. While Philippine had strongly and loudly pretested along with Vietnam which was quietly disappointed with the statement.
Virtually, China has vested its great influence over the Hun Sen's government through its economic powerhouse, and it has led to some Western journalists claimed that Hun Sen's election loss is the loss of Beijing. In fact, those foreign analysts and journalists have not deeply apprehended the complicated political situation in Cambodia yet. Visibly and shallowly, the international community has seen China clearly as a master of Hun Sen, but in contrast, Hanoi is his real but covert master. Because Hanoi has installed the Hun Sen's regime since 1979 as its proxy in Cambodia. When Vietnam unilaterally withdrew their troops from Cambodia in 1989, they had transformed some of their soldiers into civilians and covert agents to work and to conduct their policies behind the Hun Sen's regime. Along with their covert agents, Vietnam has forced Hun Sen to open the door for free flow of illegal Vietnamese immigrants into Cambodia and to create favorable living condition for those Vietnamese in exchange for their votes as we have witnessed in this election.
Furthermore, Vietnam have built up their political and economic networks deeply throughout the country through their associations, land concessions, business network, and the so called Triangle Development Special Economic Zone along the borders of the three countries: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Some people have called this new economic zone as the Mini Indochina Federation. To expand their influence parallel to their networks in the country, Vietnam has also lured Cambodia to cooperate with them by creating numerous memorandums and treaties between the two countries' national institutions such as military, police, courts, foreign affairs, parliament, so on. Through these memorandums, Hanoi can oversee and collect intelligences from Cambodia without any obstacle.
Undoubtedly, we have seen China has clearly unveiled its influence over the Cambodian government through its economic powerhouse that Cambodia has enjoyed for years. The more money China has invested, the deeper the root of influence China has over Cambodia. Because China will need to protect its growing interests in the country against any unforeseen forces. Nevertheless, China has had no strong foundation of political and business networks as Vietnam has built in Cambodia over the past 34 years. The dispute over the South China Sea between Hanoi and Beijing has placed Hun Sen in an awkward position. Hun Sen needs to walk on a tight rope in order to serve his two greedy masters equally. But, covertly and secretly, Hun Sen has protected and served the interest of his true master, Hanoi more honestly than Beijing, but publicly Hun Sen has shown his sincere gesture toward Beijing than Hanoi. This is the Hanoi covert foreign policy toward Cambodia. Overtly, Hanoi wants the international community to see that Hun Sen has run his country independently from Hanoi ,while at the same time it has drawn the fine line for Hun Sen to walk. The Hanoi covert policy and the Beijing overt policy toward Cambodia have created a puzzle to the public about which country has more political influence over Cambodia.
Based on all the facts above, we have concluded that Vietnam has more influence on the Cambodian Government than China does. Strategically, Hanoi has not only wanted to influence over Cambodia but to swallow the whole country as we have witnessed so far. In opposite, Beijing does not have Indochina federation on its political agenda over Cambodia but staunchly needs political and economic influences over Cambodia in order to convey its growing power into the region.