President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) promise that China would be more amenable to Taiwan inking free-trade deals or integrating with other regional economies after signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was put into question after reports revealed that Cambodia turned down a request by Taipei to open a representative office because of Phnom Penh’s “one China” policy.
The Phnom Penh Post last week quoted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as saying that Taiwan could not establish a trade office in Cambodia because the country abides by the “one China” principle, prompting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Aug. 11 to issue a statement emphasizing the Republic of China’s status as a sovereign and independent country.
Any Cambodian official departing from the “one China” policy and seeking to allow Taiwan to open a representative office would be dismissed, the Post said.
As Taiwan seeks to sign trade agreements with regional economies — especially ASEAN members — opening trade offices constitutes a crucial step toward achieving this goal.
China’s clout over Cambodia has grown recently and with it, its influence over Phnom Penh’s policy decisions. China is now the biggest financier in the country, investing US$4.3 billion in 2008, 40 percent of total foreign investment.
Beijing’s investment targets include agribusiness, energy projects and mineral and oil exploration.
Chinese investment in Cambodia also comes with no strings attached, providing a convenient alternative for the Cambodian government to the more conditional investment by Western countries and organizations such as the IMF and World Bank.
Earlier this year, a Cambodian source told the Taipei Times, on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, that Beijing’s grip on Phnom Penh was such that few Cambodians dared criticize China, with the understanding that doing so could undermine their chances of finding employment or getting a promotion, particularly in the government. Retribution for failing to abide by this tacit policy, the source said, extends as far as family members of employees.
MOFA has called on Phnom Penh to adopt “an open and pragmatic attitude toward increasing economic exchanges with Taiwan,” adding that “continuing such unfriendly remarks will only sabotage trade realities between the two countries.”
Taiwan is the sixth-largest foreign investor in Cambodia, with investments totaling US$657 million, statistics showed.