China pledges $548 million in aid to ally Cambodia


PHNOM PENH – China has pledged another $548 million in aid to Cambodia for infrastructure and irrigation systems, extending assistance that some critics say has bought it Cambodia’s diplomatic support.

Agreements covering $500 million in soft loans and $48 million in grants were signed when Prime Minister Hun Sen visited China and met Premier Li Keqiang over the weekend, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told a briefing on Wednesday.

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“This is a big number, as Hun Sen has said, and will be used to improve infrastructure,” Cham Prasidh said, adding that it would help build 400 km (250 miles) of new roads a year over several years.

He added that Hun Sen had thanked former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for the 2,000 km (1,250 miles) of roads and seven bridges across rivers that had been built in Cambodia with Chinese aid money during his 10 years in office.

In return, Cambodia had reiterated its diplomatic support for China and a “one China” policy that opposes any form of independence for Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers its own.

Critics also say it used its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year to support Chinese policy in the region, in particular cutting short debate on the South China Sea, where China’s territorial claims overlap those of five other countries.

Chinese investment in Cambodia has totaled $9.1 billion since 1994, including almost $1.2 billion in 2011, eight times more than the United States, according to the Cambodia Investment Board.

Cham Prasidh said Cambodia’s Royal Group of Companies, whose CEO, Kith Meng, accompanied Hun Sen, was in talks to buy a satellite from a Chinese space firm for its telecoms operations in a deal that could be worth between $300 million and $400 million. (Reuters)

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Alan Raybould)