As coronavirus infections continue to rise and countries place restrictions on travel to and from China , Cambodia stands out for refusing to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan – the city at the epicentre of the outbreak – or take any measures against Chinese travellers. There has been much online criticism of Cambodia ’s decision – mostly from critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen – given that there are now more than 23,400 confirmed cases worldwide, exceeding 2003’s Sars epidemic . Other Asean member states have moved to restrict travellers from Hubei province entering their countries, while some such as Singapore and Indonesia have joined the United States and Australia in barring from their shores all foreigners who have passed through China in the last two weeks. So far, Cambodia has only reported one case of the virus – a Chinese man who is recovering in a hospital in the coastal province of Sihanoukville . But fake news abounds: see the reports last week that two new sick patients had been admitted to hospital in Koh Kong province, for instance. Hun Sen earlier said Cambodians working or studying in China, including those in Wuhan, “have to remain there and join the Chinese people to fight this disease”. On Monday, he told more than 1,000 Cambodian nationals in South Korea, where he was attending a summit, that he would visit the 23 Cambodian students trapped in Wuhan , which has been under lockdown for more than a week. On Wednesday, however, he said China’s foreign ministry had told him that he could not go to the city in Hubei province where the outbreak began, but could get a better understanding of the situation by visiting Beijing, where he is expected to meet President Xi Jinping . Meanwhile, Cambodian authorities have pledged support for citizens in China, with foreign ministry officials being tasked with delivering food to the stranded students and keeping in touch with Chinese authorities and universities. How the West could drive Cambodia further into China’s clutches Hun Sen’s stance is a calculated one. The prime minister must have reasoned that evacuating students could adversely affect any future scholarships offered by the Chinese government, and that restricting travel to and from China would only hurt the economy. To date, China has offered more than 3,000 scholarships to Cambodian students, 185 of whom are pursuing higher education in China in the current academic year. Cambodia’s economy is heavily dependent on China, with the latter pumping in more investment than any other country – more than US$3 billion in 2018 alone. Last year, China promised to import 400,000 tonnes of rice from Cambodia and provided around US$600 million in aid running through 2019-2021. The two have also pledged that bilateral trade will reach a record US$10 billion by 2023. Last year, upwards of 2 million Chinese tourists visited Cambodia, a more than 24 per cent increase on 2018. Given that the European Union is considering scrapping preferential trade treatment for Cambodia under its Everything But Arms scheme citing human rights concerns, the country is expediting its free-trade agreement negotiations with China, not to mention South Korea and the possibility of a deal with the UK post- Brexit . Hence Cambodia sees this tough time that China is experiencing as a chance to show solidarity, a tool that is conducive for trade diplomacy. It is a continuation of the country’s role as President Xi’s most reliable partner in Southeast Asia : embracing China’s ambitious global belt and road trade strategy and throwing its support behind Beijing’s stance that territorial disputes related to the South China Sea should be solved between claimant states. From a legal standpoint, Cambodia’s refusal to enact a travel ban is in line with the World Health Organisation ’s position that countries should take only protective measures deemed non-discriminatory or disruptive to travel and trade at this stage of the outbreak. Though it has to be acknowledged that there is a risk to the safety and health of Cambodian nationals and the government should amend its policy if the situation worsens. So what the prime minister has called for is for immigration authorities to undertake careful screening – and quarantine if necessary – of all Chinese travellers, and for the health ministry to keep a close watch on any new infections, both locally and in those coming from China. As China works to stop the spread of the virus and treat those who are ill, the global reaction to isolate it will hit its economy. State media and some economists have suggested that the subsequent fallout could wipe US$62 billion off its GDP. That is enormous, especially compared to the US$2.2 billion that the African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone lost to the travel and trade restrictions during 2014’s Ebola outbreak . Bunthorn Sok is a former lecturer of International Studies at Royal University of Phnom Penh and studying for his Masters in International Trade Law at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom.