It was my first visit to Cambodia, and the only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay longer. Several things about the kingdom made an impression.
There’s Angkor Wat, of course, and the ruins of other temples and edifices in its immediate environs. There’s also the sombre awareness that almost every Cambodian today would have a tragic story to tell about the genocidal savagery of the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), during which an estimated one in four Cambodians died.
The country and its people are stepping out from the shadows of its recent past with their sights set on a better future. This recovery process has been aided, for better or worse, by the People’s Republic of China, Cambodia’s long-term ally. It’s impossible for any visitor to Cambodia not to notice the ubiquity of Chinese investment, especially in the capital, Phnom Penh.
The Chinese connection to Cambodia goes way back to the 3rd century AD, when two emissaries from the State of Wu in southeast China visited the Kingdom of Funan (possibly a Chinese rendition of the Khmer word “vnam”, whose modern rendition is “phnom”) in the south of the Indochinese Peninsula. Subsequently, the kings of Funan and its successor states, Chenla and the Khmer Empire (whose kings built Angkor Wat) sent missions to China, some bearing tributary goods in exchange for the Chinese emperor’s recognition of their political legitimacy.
Under the principle of the sovereign equality of states, Cambodia is no longer a vassal state of China. Cynics, however, may think otherwise.