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Photo: “Tiananman Gate“, by allen watkin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Chheang, Vannarith. “Cambodia’s Embrace of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Managing Asymmetries, Maximizing Authority.” Asian Perspecitve 68, no. 4 (April 15, 2021): 264–78.


Cambodia has warmly embraced China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which provides Cambodian ruling elites with massive opportunities to extend their domestic authority while posing very little challenge. Although there is power asymmetry in Cambodia’s relationship with China, this does not mean that Cambodia is without agency. Cambodian elites have endeavored to manage the power asymmetry externally, while maximizing their authority internally through legitimization, co-option, and coercion. Cambodia has pursued a hedging approach to strengthen its bargaining power as well as to reduce the risks from overreliance on China. The BRI provides extensive material resources for the Cambodian elites to consolidate their power, as well as to stimulate economic growth and bolster the regime’s performance legitimacy, which is further complemented and augmented by nationalist legitimization vis-à-vis the West, Vietnam, and Thailand, challenges for which Beijing offers a politico-security umbrella.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.