As the Cambodian election campaign draws to a close with tens of thousands of people rallying across Phnom Penh, the authorities in Beijing have left no doubt where they see this Sunday’s election and Prime Minister Hun Sen heading.
In a statement that smacked of diplomatic crudeness, China announced a new ambassador Bu Jiango had been appointed to Cambodia through its official Xinhua news service and indicated that it expects business as usual after the poll.
It made no mention of the election or allowances for the eight political parties contesting the poll. Instead, the statement assumed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will win the poll and the new ambassador would be working with the Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in the months to come.
With just three days to go, it also used the announcement to remind Cambodians of Chinese largesse over recent years and in doing so revealed exactly how much the Chinese government had bestowed on Cambodia since 1992.
Importantly, it said China was one of the top providers of development assistance to Cambodia with loans and grants extended since 1992 totaling 2.7 billion U.S. dollars while a further 9.17 billion dollars worth of investments had been made between 1994 and 2012.
The figures came from the Cambodia's Finance Ministry and the Council for Development of Cambodia and the combined US$11.87 billion spent over two decades confirmed China as this country’s biggest foreign spender.
Beijing also noted that Cambodian-Chinese ties had reached the highest of levels in December 2010, with the classification: Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation. Last year, bilateral trade reached US$2.9 billion this was expected to more than double by 2017.
"Cambodia's social and economic development could not be cut off from China's generous assistance," Hor Namhong was quoted as saying after Bu presented her credentials to King Norodom Sihamoni.
China insists it gives money with no strings attached – unlike Western donors — but Cambodia has emerged as a strategic ally in recent years, defying its own neighbors and backing Beijing over its negotiations in the South China Seas where overlapping sovereign claims have lead to military and political standoffs with Vietnam and The Philippines.
Hun Sen is widely expected to win this election amid widespread allegations of bullying and intimidation by forces loyal to the CPP. However, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) has delivered a spirited campaign, particularly in the capital and provincial towns, and was expected to increase its presence in the 123-seat National Assembly.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.