Cambodian leader Hun Manet’s recent visit to France underscores the nation’s pursuit of strategic diversification amid concerns about over-reliance on China. The talks primarily centred around defence cooperation, have positioned France as a potential ally, marking Manet’s first official visit to Europe since taking office.
While economic collaboration took the forefront, with France pledging €200 million in support for vocational training, energy, and water treatment sectors, the discussions also delved into Cambodia’s role in France’s Indo-Pacific strategy. This strategy aligns with the broader trend among Western nations in crafting blueprints to counterbalance China’s expanding influence in the region.
Analysts speculate that France is not only exploring economic ties but also signalling opportunities for defence collaboration, including arms sales and joint military exercises. The move comes as various Western countries seek to engage nations in the Indo-Pacific region to counterbalance China’s dominance, a sentiment echoed in Emmanuel Macron’s letter emphasizing adherence to international law.
France, being the world’s third-largest arms exporter, holds significant potential for Cambodia seeking to diversify its defence partnerships. Historical ties, including France’s peacekeeping role in Cambodia during the early 1990s, further contribute to the foundation of this evolving relationship.
Cambodia’s deepening relationship with China had raised concerns about potential over-reliance, prompting efforts to expand ties with other nations. Over the past few years, China has frequently faced allegations of breaching international norms and agreements, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These accusations primarily stem from China’s regular harassment of civilian vessels, particularly in the South China Sea.
The recent security cooperation initiative of Cambodia with Japan and the visit to France signal Cambodia’s strategic intent to maintain a delicate balance in its foreign relations. Japan offers Cambodia an alternative amidst escalating tensions between the U.S. and China.
While Cambodia remains deeply intertwined with China economically and militarily, recent developments, such as Japan’s role in dispelling suspicions about hosting the Chinese Navy in Ream Base, underscore the kingdom’s eagerness to diversify its diplomatic portfolio.
As global security concerns rise, Cambodia faces the challenge of navigating a path between major powers. By this, Cambodia aims to maintain its official neutral stance while proactively diversifying its strategic partnerships.