Cambodia’s Diplomacy in the Balance of Powers between China and the United States

Last modified: November 11, 2023
Estimated reading time: 2 min
Project Title: Cambodia’s Diplomacy in the Balance of Powers between China and the United States
Author: Mr. Phen Sophearoth
Advisor: Assistant Professor Dr. Suraphol Sirivathaya
Degree: Master of Arts in Peace Studies and Diplomacy
Major: Peace Studies and Diplomacy
Faculty: Graduate School of Peace Studies and Diplomacy
Academic year: 2023
Conference Proceedings
2nd National and International Academic Conference Innovation and Management for Sustainability 15-16 December 2020


Sophearoth, Phen. (2023). Cambodia’s diplomacy in the balance of powers between China and the United States. (Master’s independent study). Bangkok: Siam University.


The objectives of this research were: 1) to find what and how China’s diplomacy has expanded its roles as a major dominant superpower in Cambodia vis-à-vis the United States’ superpower; 2) to analyze what are the effects of China’s expansionism as a major dominant superpower in Cambodia in rival with the United States’ superpower; and 3) to analyze why and how Cambodian diplomacy can use the United States’ rival power to counter-balance China’s dominant power in Cambodia. The research applied a qualitative research methodology by using a documentary research method. The secondary data was collected from various documents, such as research reports, academic books, papers, review articles and newspapers, digital data from internet websites, as well as official documents of governments and international organizations. The researcher analyzes all collected data using content analysis, logical analysis, and comparative analysis to make the research’s conclusion, discussion, and recommendations.

This research found that Cambodia regards ASEAN and China as almost equally important pillars of its foreign policy as a small country. Amidst fierce strategic competition in the Indo- Pacific region, Cambodia faces a dilemma of how to maintain ASEAN’s centrality without paying a diplomatic price for its key ally, China, and how to balance national and regional interests. Cambodia is currently in the middle of a geopolitical tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington. Against this backdrop, Cambodia seems locked in tensions between Washington and

Beijing, trying to balance ties without jeopardizing its own interests. The US and China are vital to Cambodia’s development and certainly to the power of Cambodia’s ruling elite. Chinese investment and development aid have contributed significantly to Cambodia’s national development, although Beijing’s generosity poses some reputational risks. At the same time, Cambodia is not working only with the United States and China, but also with Japan, the European Union, and the ASEAN Community, to promote economic growth, maintain internal stability, strengthen the military, maintain the regional balance of power, and project a contradictory image of their alignment position.

At this point, Cambodia should step back from its current strategic engagement with China and seek ways to diversify its relationships with other major powers while returning to a democratic path and upholding human rights is necessary. The analysis showed that despite the economic benefits, Chinese investment has had a significant negative impact on Cambodia as a recipient of foreign direct investment. There are four aspects of the influence that were discussed: political, sociocultural, environmental, and socioeconomic. The report ends with recommendations on how China and Cambodia may move forward to make sure that Chinese investments in Cambodia have positive rather than negative effects and Charged geopolitics.

Keywords: Cambodia’s diplomacy, balance of powers, China, United States.

Cambodia’s Diplomacy in the Balance of Powers between China and the United States

Master of Arts in Peace Studies and Diplomacy, Siam University, Bangkok, Thailand

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