China challenging Vietnam dominance in Cambodia, Laos through BRI projects, says analyst

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Representative image
Representative image

Washington [US], November 2 (ANI): China has increasingly challenged Vietnam's dominance in Cambodia and Laos, primarily by leveraging Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, said defence analyst Derek Grossman, adding that Hanoi will have to find alternative means of engaging its neighbours to combat Chinese influence in the critical region.

In an opinion piece on The Diplomat, Grossman said that China's strengthening ties to Cambodia and Laos in recent years have real effects on Vietnam.

For example, Chinese support has likely contributed to Cambodian and Laotian decisions not to fully support Vietnam's stance on ASEAN's Code of Conduct negotiations in the South China Sea.

"China has increasingly challenged Vietnam's dominance in Cambodia and Laos, primarily by leveraging Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects to raise its influence in the region. Outspent by BRI, Hanoi is almost certainly concerned that it can no longer count on Cambodia and Laos to make decisions aligned with its national security," Grossman writes.

The wide range of Chinese activities with Vietnam's traditional "special strategic partners" must be "jarring" for Vietnamese leaders, he writes.

"Although less public, Vietnam's own interactions with Cambodia and Laos continue to be exceptionally close in spite of China's growing influence in the region. But the reality is that China has already eclipsed Vietnam in Indo-China, and that fact means that Hanoi's angst will only continue to rise in its own backyard. Hanoi will likely have to find alternative means of engaging Cambodia and Laos to combat Chinese influence in this critical region in the years to come," he writes further.

Grossman said there are many troubling signs regarding Cambodia as its leaders Hun Sen is becoming a good friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for 35 years, was supported by Vietnam from the late 1970s when he was part of the rebel army that helped overthrow the China-backed Khmer Rouge. He also enjoyed robust support from Hanoi through the 1980s, when Hun Sen's government was embargoed by China, the United States, and their partners in ASEAN. In recent years, however, the wheel has turned, and Hun Sen becomes a good friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Underscoring the closeness of their relationship," the analyst said.

Hun Sen became the first foreign leader to visit Xi in China amid the coronavirus pandemic. He referred to Cambodia and China as "steadfast friends." "Hun Sen has taken his loyalty to China a step further by echoing Beijing's revisionist history on Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge," he added.

In lieu of having the requisite funds to repay loans on BRI projects, Grossman said Laos appears willing to offer up other valuable assets to its largest creditor.

"For example, in mid-September, a Chinese state-owned firm assumed majority control of Laos' electrical grid. There are even concerns that Vientiane is willing to pay down Chinese debts using land transfers. Like in Cambodia, Laos has actively engaged in SEZ (special economic zone) activities with China. Chinese firms have already been developing a resort area at Boten SEZ in northern Laos along the Chinese border, and many other SEZs exist or are coming online soon," he stated. (ANI)