Judges and rice: Cambodia’s expanding reliance on China

Cambodia is rapidly expanding its diplomatic affair with China. Early last week it appealed to Beijing for help amid plunging rice pricesand then three days later Phnom Penh signed an MoU seeking Chinese assistance in overhauling its much maligned judiciary. The memorandum of understanding allows China to provide training, finance and expertise with a focus on commercial courts, in a country where the separation of powers between the government and the judiciary is constantly being questioned. Reforms are needed. Efforts by the United States, Germany and Australia – among others – to help improve the Cambodian court system have ended in frustration. But doubts over whether China can actually do this are as grave as the concerns for Beijing’s investment strategy here. In recent years Cambodia has given China unflinching support, which mattered most in the South China Sea dispute where Beijing has faced virulent opposition from nearly all of its neighbors. Claims by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines were ignored by Cambodia and in return Beijing’s largesse has topped about $20 billion over the last 15 years. Its overarching influence dominates most facets of life in Cambodia.

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