Chinese President in Cambodia As Summit Opens

Posted March 30th, 2012 at 1:25 pm (UTC-5)
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China's President Hu Jintao is in Cambodia on a four-day state visit that coincides with a key regional summit where participants are expected to voice growing opposition to Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Mr. Hu was to meet with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and confer with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit extends through the weekend in Phnom Penh.

Analysts say it is not clear how or if the issue of competing claims to the energy-rich South China Sea will be addressed at the summit. Cambodia, the rotating ASEAN chair, recently removed the topic from the official summit agenda, ahead of China's announcement of the president's visit.

China exerts enormous influence in Cambodia, providing its tiny neighbor with billions of dollars in aid and investment in the past decade, including hydro-electric dams and coal-fired plants. Beijing has also agreed to write off debts and granted Phnom Penh tariff-free status on hundreds of Chinese items.

Both China and Taiwan claim title to all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims to parts of the vast area.

Beijing has insisted that it negotiates the competing claims with its smaller regional neighbors individually rather than collectively, and has pressured Cambodia to keep the maritime claims off the summit docket.

In Phnom Penh Friday, VOA's Khmer service reported that Cambodian villagers were prevented from submitting a petition asking for the Chinese leader's help in curbing a tourism development project under construction by a Chinese company on 30,000 hectares in a coastal province.

The service also reports that the opposition Sam Rainsy party wants Mr. Hu to review a host of Chinese development projects, to make sure that locals benefit from the upgrades.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann told VOA that all such projects should take into consideration “environmental and forest protection, and human as well as animal lives.”