Vietnamese party chief visits Cambodia to shore up relations

Ethnic Vietnamese students hold portraits of Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and their President Nguyen Phu Trong as they wait for welcoming ceremony in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong is in Cambodia for two days as state visit to strengthen the already close ties between the two countries. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Ethnic Vietnamese students wait for welcoming their President Nguyen Phu Trong in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Vietnamese president is in Cambodia for two days as state visit to strengthen the already close ties between the two countries. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni, center left, reviews an honor guard with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong, center right, at Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Vietnamese president is in Cambodia for two days as state visit to strengthen the already close ties between the two countries. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Cambodian students wait for welcoming Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Vietnamese president is in Cambodia for two days as state visit to strengthen the already close ties between the two countries. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong arrived in Cambodia on Monday to strengthen already close bilateral ties.

Trong's two-day state visit comes just before Vietnam plays host later this week to a summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trong came from Laos, where he paid a similar visit.

His travel to two of Vietnam's neighbors is not directly related to the summit and shows the importance Hanoi attaches to maintaining good relations with them.

Trong is also secretary general of Vietnam's Communist Party, making him the most powerful figure in the country's collective leadership. It is his first official visit to Cambodia since becoming president last October. He was invited by King Norodom Sihamoni, a constitutional monarch who received him Monday, and is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Prime Minister Hun Sen, the country's leader for more than three decades.

Vietnam has tried to maintain its influence in Cambodia and Laos since the end of the Vietnam War era, but China's economic muscle makes it a rival.

Vietnam cemented its close relationship with Cambodia when it invaded to oust the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, and installed Hun Sen as prime minister in 1985. Hun Sen had been a Khmer Rouge cadre but defected and became pro-Vietnam during a series of bloody purges.

According to the state Vietnam News Agency, Vietnam has 210 projects valued at more than $3 billion in Cambodia, making it one of the top five foreign investors. It said two-way trade totaled S4.68 billion in 2018, up almost 24 percent over 2017.

The news agency quoted Vietnam's ambassador to Cambodia, Vu Quang Minh, as saying that the trip underlines Vietnam's "sound neighborliness, traditional friendship, comprehensive cooperation and long-term sustainability" with Cambodia.

While government-to-government relations are good, there is substantial anti-Vietnamese sentiment among ordinary Cambodians, who traditionally regard their bigger neighbor as exploiting their resources and having designs upon their territory. Domestic opponents of Hun Sen often seek to gain political advantage by accusing him of selling out to Vietnam.

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