China to invest billions of dollars in ally Cambodia

China's Premier Li Keqiang, left, pulls a symbol of China-Cambodia Heart Journey, together with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, center, during a a signing ceremony at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Cambodia and China on Thursday signed nearly 20 agreements worth several billion dollars to develop the impoverished Southeast Asian country's infrastructure, agriculture and health care. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
China's Premier Li Keqiang, second from left, shakes hands with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, second from right, during a signing ceremony at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Cambodia and China on Thursday signed nearly 20 agreements worth several billion dollars to develop the impoverished Southeast Asian country's infrastructure, agriculture and health care. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
China's Premier Li Keqiang, left, talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen during a signing ceremony at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Cambodia and China on Thursday signed nearly 20 agreements worth several billion dollars to develop the impoverished Southeast Asian country's infrastructure, agriculture and health care. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Chana's Premier Li Keqiang, right, reviews an honor guard with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, center, during a welcome ceremony at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Li on Thursday took his one-day official visit to Cambodia (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia and China on Thursday signed nearly 20 agreements worth several billion dollars to develop the impoverished Southeast Asian country's infrastructure, agriculture and health care.

The agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed during a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang. Li led a senior delegation on a daylong official visit Thursday to Cambodia, China's close ally.

Among the major agreements was building a new expressway more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) long linking the capital, Phnom Penh, with the resort city of Sihanoukville, and a new Phnom Penh international Airport.

Cambodian Public Work and Transport Minister Sun Chanthol told The Associated Press after the signing that China will invest some $2 billion for the highway. He said the project is set to start this year and will take at least 44 months to complete.

China is Cambodia's key ally and economic partner. It has provided millions of dollars in aid and investment over the past decade, granted Cambodia a tariff-free status on hundreds of trade items and written off its debt.

In return, Cambodia supports China in international forums, including Beijing's ongoing dispute with Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.

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