PHNOM PENH • Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Cambodia for a two-day visit yesterday, praising the close ties that have seen Cambodia back China's position on the South China Sea and looking to forge dozens of economic agreements.
It is Mr Xi's first visit to Phnom Penh since he became President in 2013. Cambodia has shielded China from criticism by Asean over the South China Sea.
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 in July that largely denied Beijing's claims.
China and Cambodia are "good neighbours, real friends who are loyal to each other", Mr Xi wrote in a front-page commentary in Cambodia's biggest Khmer-language newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea.
"When China acted to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests and was devoted to resolving related disputes through peaceful negotiation, Cambodia did not hesitate to speak out to uphold justice," he wrote.
He said bilateral trade reached US$4.4 billion (S$6 billion) last year and is set to reach US$5 billion next year.
Chinese investment in Cambodia was valued at US$864 million last year and a total of US$9.1 billion has been pledged since 1994, according to the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
This year, China has pledged US$600 million in aid to Cambodia over the next three years.
At least 28 agreements were expected to be signed when Mr Xi met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday, mostly on exports of Cambodian agricultural products to China.
Companies from the two countries signed eight trade deals valued at US$62 million on Tuesday in Phnom Penh. The Chinese companies, led by the Ministry of Commerce, agreed to buy Cambodian products such as cassava starch and granite materials.
China is helping to build the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in south-western Cambodia.
Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo said that as an important transport hub in South-east Asia, Cambodia holds a key position on the ancient maritime Silk Road connecting the East and the West.
Mr Jiang Jingkui, director of the Centre of South Asian Studies at Peking University, said the economies of China and Cambodia are highly complementary, adding that some Chinese companies are moving their factories to lower-cost Cambodia and Bangladesh.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK