Beyond Realism: A Psychological Approach to Understanding Cambodia-China Relations and Its Implications for ASEAN Solidarity
The rise of China has brought about changes in the balance of power in Southeast Asia, and the realist approach to foreign policy cannot explain why some Southeast Asian countries are balancing the increasing economic and political influence of a rising China and some are not. The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called his country “China’s most trustworthy friend”, a sentiment that is apparent in Cambodia’s close economic and political ties to China. This paper aims to go beyond realist considerations and takes political psychology into account when seeking to understand how deeply Cambodia has been drawn into China’s orbit. Despite several benefits Cambodia has acquired from its ASEAN membership such as political and economic stability, legitimacy, and multidimensional cooperation with ASEAN countries and dialogue partners, evidence demonstrates that Cambodia’s loyalty to China trumps its commitment to ASEAN solidarity. This special interstate relationship can be seen in Hun Sen’s propaganda documentary Marching towards National Salvation, and his encouragement of his citizens to read the Cambodian version of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China. By adopting a psychological model, which takes into account trust, emotion, belief, identity, perception and the leadership traits of Hun Sen, and other Cambodian ruling elites, analysts can better understand Cambodia’s behavioral deviation from other ASEAN countries with regards to its relations with China.
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