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Cambodia: Hun Sen Courts Khmer-Chinese to ‘Protect Stability’; By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Article no: 0013/2017

We are drafting a report on Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s dinner with 5,240 members of the Khmer-Chinese and overseas Chinese community on Saturday, 4th February. This gathering, according to a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy, was the first of its kind. At the meeting Hun Sen asked Khmer-Chinese to support further SinoCambodian cooperation through the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation and the Belt and Road initiative. He also asked Khmer-Chinese to “protect stability” in Cambodia and to help attract more investment and tourism into the country. We request your assessment of the following issues:

Q1. In concrete form, what would this “cooperation” resemble on the part of KhmerChinese and how would they be expected to “promote stability”?

ANSWER: Hun Sen was advocating political support from the Khmer-Chinese community for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and political support against opposition to the CCP regime, and soliciting financial contributions to the CPP and its officials

Q2. Since Chinese Cambodians are an important part of the Cambodian business sector, are they expected to promote stability by continuing to help grow the Cambodian economy?

ANSWER: Yes, Hun Sen was calling on the Khmer-Chinese to work with mainland Chinese on business ventures and create a favourable environment for mainland Chinese investment. Hun Sen was trying to optimize shared culture and language of the Khmer-Chinese as a conduit to the mainland Chinese.

Q3. Does their over representation in Cambodia’s business sector cause resentment, and if so, does it undermine “stability” in Cambodia?

ANSWER: There are two aspects. First, views about the Khmer-Chinese community are mixed in Cambodia. On the negative side there is some jealousy and resentment over their leading role in the domestic economy by the underclass in urban areas. This resentment is even greater when mainland Chinese work with Khmer-Chinese to the disadvantage of ethnic Cambodian workers. Political stability in Cambodia is more likely to be upset by anti-Vietnamese ethno-nationalist sentiment. But there are issues that arouse anti-China sentiment – mistreatment of Cambodian workers, illegal land seizure to benefit mainland Chinese and their local partners, and pollution by Chinese industries.

Q4. How might Cambodian Chinese civil society be expected to play a role in “promoting stability”?

ANSWER: There are many academic definitions of civil society. In its original sense civil society referred to trade guilds. Thus Chinese chambers of commerce and specific guilds around crafts and other trades could play an information and advocacy role on domestic and commercial issues. Leaders of these civil society groups would serve as points of contact for the government. Civil society has come to take on an expanded role including promoting local development and non-political associational activity. Finally, political civil society has emerged with groups promoting gender equity, human rights, democracy and religious freedom. Ethnic Khmer have been conspicuous in these groups.

[Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Email: All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients.]

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