China Donates $11M in Vehicles and Office Equipment for Elections

The National Election Committee (NEC) has received $11 million worth of cars, motorbikes, video conferencing equipment, computers and printers from China, surpassing the value of earlier aid from the E.U. and Japan for a computerized registration system.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the equipment would help meet the committee’s needs, though he would not specify how. “The materials are not completely enough for us at the NEC, but they could reduce some of our difficulties,” he said.

National Election Committee President Sik Bunhok, right, is shown donations from China to the elections body at a ceremony in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The vehicles and equipment were gifts and not intended to influence upcoming elections, he said, adding that they follow $6.7 million and $1.1 million in earlier aid from the E.U. and Japan, respectively.

The donation was made at a ceremony with the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Tuesday.

According to a statement read by NEC President Sik Bunhok, the donations from the Chinese government included 44 cars, 29 motorbikes, 26 pieces of video conferencing equipment, 80 computers and 75 printers, valued at $11,730,036.

“On behalf of [the] National Election Committee, I deeply thank the Chinese government, which is always paying attention to and helping Cambodia—and now the NEC for both national elections and subnational elections,” Mr. Bunhok said.

Mr. Bunhok noted that foreign donors such as China had contributed to Cambodian elections since the reinstatement of national polls in 1993.

Cambodia has seen conspicuous largesse from China this year, with President Xi Jinping making an official visit in October and showering the country with $237 million in new aid. Political analysts have said the increasing aid from China reflects a shift in Cambodia’s international politics toward an Asian neighbor that makes no qualms about human rights abuses.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said the donation showed that China’s patronage of Cambodia was “rock-solid.”

“The donated sum is not huge, but its significance lies in the recipient being Cambodia’s National Election Committee,” Mr. Pongsudhirak said in an email. “That China contributes more on this front than the EU and Japan reveals which major power is in charge in Cambodia.”

Lee Morgenbesser, a research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University and the author of “Behind the Facade: Elections Under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia,” said China’s donation toward elections in Cambodia raised more questions than answers.

“The irony is quite striking. China’s expertise in holding elections is arguably less than Cambodia’s,” Mr. Morgenbesser said. “While I would contest the notion that the contribution is in support of ‘free elections,’ there are profound questions about whether an $11 million contribution is worth all the fuss.”

Part of the motivation could be to increase China’s leverage over the Cambodian government relative to Western powers, especially the E.U. and Japan, he said.

“Insofar as elections mean reinstalling Hun Sen’s CPP in power, China would obviously do what it can to make sure this happens.”

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