December 21, 2009 / 2:04 PM / 10 years ago

Cambodia tightens economic links with China

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia signed 14 deals worth an estimated $850 million with China on Monday, two days after defying international pressure by deporting 20 ethnic Chinese asylum-seekers, underlining growing trade and diplomatic links.

China's Vice President Xi Jinping toasts with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) after signing an agreement on cooperation at council of minister in Phnom Penh December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

China, Cambodia’s biggest source of foreign direct investment having pumped more than $4.3 billion into the impoverished nation, agreed to help fund projects ranging from roads and irrigation to temple conservation and a new a parliament building.

The exact value of the agreements, signed during a visit by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, was not disclosed. But the pacts were widely believed related to a deal worth $853 million when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, met in Sichuan on October 15.

The agreements came two days after Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighurs at China’s request, despite having signed a 1951 treaty banning the forced repatriation of refugees who face persecution at home.

The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim group, were involved in ethnic rioting in western China in July that killed 197 people. They were smuggled into Cambodia about a month ago and applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee office.

U.S.-based Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said in an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal that Cambodia’s deportation was “no doubt influenced by enormous Chinese pressure, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.”

China has repeatedly said the Uighurs in Cambodia were under investigation and were suspected of being criminals, without giving details.

“China thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back those people,” said Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanarith.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accused Cambodia of bowing to pressure and deporting the asylum seekers having given “strong assurances” it would be allowed to complete its investigation to determine their status.

Cambodia has said the Uighurs entered the country illegally and it was implementing its own immigration laws.

Editing by Martin Petty and Sugita Katyal

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