Cambodian PM says China to help if EU cuts trade privileges

Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Beijing. (Madoka Ikegami/Pool Photo via AP)
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Beijing. (Madoka Ikegami/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Hun Sen, second right, attends a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, second left, at the Great Hall of the People, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Beijing. (Madoka Ikegami/Pool Photo via AP)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — 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, Cambodia's prime minister said Monday

Hun Sen announced the assurance on his Facebook page 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 Prime Minister Li Keqiang, but he did not say what form the assistance would take.

The EU in February 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 labor rights." The EU grants duty-free and quota-free access for items other than weapons to Cambodia and other developing countries.

Cambodia's Foreign Affairs Ministry at that time 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) labor 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.

Hun Sen also said Monday that China — Cambodia's closest ally — pledged a 600 million yuan ($89 million) military assistance grant.

Hun Sen described current ties between the two countries "as firm as steel" and amounting to a strategic partnership in all sectors.

He said during his stay in Beijing since last Thursday he met several Chinese businessmen, and many more Chinese investors agreed to invest in Cambodia soon.

In January, Hun Sen made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600 million in grant aid as part of a three-year assistance fund, and that the two countries also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2023.

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