We Are All Friends in Need Now

“A friend in need is a friend indeed” has become the defining slogan that sums up Cambodia’s relationship with China. Both Prime Minister Hun Sen and President Xi Jinping have made efforts to publicly display the close ties between their respective countries, with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic serving as a means for both leaders to demonstrate their commitment to a shared national development. On March 23, China sent seven of specialized doctors to help Cambodia’s efforts in containing the virus, whereas Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was the first foreign leader to visit Beijing since the outbreak began in December 2019. With all of this in mind, Samnang and Sothie discuss the implications of such a relationship over their morning coffee.

Samnang: Sothie! Many people have criticized the cooperation between Cambodia and China, but now, as we have seen, China is becoming the leading force in the fight against the virus, sending doctors and medical equipment across the world, how do you feel about that now?

Sothie: Haters gonna hate would be one response, however, never forget that China is even more than just a friend, they have grown to become our best friend – so much money has been poured into Cambodia from China that the relationship is now ironclad. We keep hearing the phrase, “A friend in need is a friend indeed” with regards to the relations between China and Cambodia and it’s true that the diplomatic relations are now complex and comprehensive. You have seen it quite clearly, China just gave us their medical support during a time in which we all struggle – this is what best friends do. Cambodia is among the several countries that China has leant assistance to during this pandemic.

Samnang: Well, even still, there are voices mentioning that China is a communist nation and that Cambodia should not rely too heavily on any one friend. You can’t seriously expect them to just give us all of this – the money and the aid – for free can you? Any ideas from you on this? 

Sothie: Eh Samnang! In diplomatic relations, there are neither friends nor enemies. The only thing that matters is common interest. For this, I just want to directly inform you that do not take it too personal of what other people say. If China helps us, then it is because China has a common interest in helping us. End of story. Remember, Prime Minister Hun Sen was the first head of state who paid a visit to China during the viral outbreak – his attitude was a clear indication of the support he will give the Chinese government, even in a dangerous, unpredictable time. And now, you can see what they have returned to us amidst the crisis of ours. This is why Cambodia and China are “Best friends who assist each other during difficult time.” 

Samnang: Sure, I still recognize that a lot of people have concerns about China’s approach to helping its friend – remember the debt-trap that people warned us against when accepting loans from China? Anyway, there are many other nations out there who also went out of their way to assist us, did not they? 

Sothie: Well, the truth is Japan did send medical supplies to us and the United States gave us $2 million dollars to control the pandemic – Germany just gave us €1.5 million to make sure the Pasteur Institute keeps running, which is vital for our fight against COVID-19. 

Samnang: Logically, China, the US and Japan are all our best friends. Is that what you have in mind? 

Sothie: Honestly speaking, it must be like that, Samnang, sometimes you have to accept the reality that anybody can be our friends and that in these trying times, we need all the friends we can get. Do not be biased that China is not as worthy as America or America is better than China or Japan is better than China. As the citizens of Cambodia, we should put in mind that “our friends could be anybody.” 

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