| PHNOM PENH
PHNOM PENH Oct 13 Chinese President Xi Jinping
arrived in Cambodia for a two-day visit on Thursday, praising
the close ties that have seen Cambodia back China's position on
the South China Sea, and looking to forge dozens of economic
About 2,000 school students waving flags and holding
portraits of Xi and Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni lined the
road from Phnom Penh airport into the city to greet the Chinese
It is Xi's first visit to Phnom Penh since he became
president in 2013.
Cambodia has shielded China from criticism by the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the South
ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei
are in disputes with China over rival claims to the waters.
Last month, Cambodia was able to veto an ASEAN statement
referring to a ruling at an international tribunal earlier in
the year that largely denied Beijing's claims.
China and Cambodia were "good neighbours, real friends who
are loyal to each other", Xi wrote in a front-page commentary in
Cambodia's biggest Khmer-language newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea.
Xi said bilateral trade reached $4.4 billion last year and
was set to reach $5 billion next year.
Chinese investment in Cambodia was valued at $864 million
last year and a total of $9.1 billion has been pledged since
1994, according to the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
This year, China has pledged $600 million in aid to Cambodia
over the next three years.
At least 28 agreements are expected to be signed when Xi
meets Prime Minister Hun Sen later on Thursday, mostly on
exports of Cambodian agricultural products to China.
China has become Cambodia's closest ally while relations
between Cambodia and Western powers, including the United States
and European Union, are frequently strained by differences over
Miguel Chanco, regional lead analyst for the Economist
Intelligence Unit, said Xi's visit represented a Chinese
reassurance amid rising criticism from the West over a crackdown
on government critics before a 2018 general election.
"China's continued support of Cambodia, both economically
and in the arena of international politics, will mean that the
Hun Sen regime is unlikely to soften its heavy-handedness
anytime soon," Chanco said.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Robert Birsel)