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China and Cambodia: Patron and Client?

International Policy Center Working Paper No. 121

39 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2013 Last revised: 27 Jun 2013

John D. Ciorciari

University of Michigan - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Date Written: June 14, 2013


In recent years, Cambodia has become one of China's closest international partners and diplomatic allies. Cambodia's apparent defense of China during ASEAN talks on the South China Sea demonstrated the strength of the partnership and its relevance to broader regional relations. This paper examines key trends in the relationship and argues that it conforms increasingly to a patron-client arrangement. Such arrangements are rooted in an exchange of benefits. Among other things, patronage buys the stronger state a degree of deference and political support from its weaker partner, while client status entitles the weaker party to aid and protection at some cost in policy autonomy. This paper argues that Sino-Cambodian ties have become close over the past fifteen years largely because China has offered Cambodia's governing elites a favorable bargain, providing ample economic and political benefits without demanding particularly costly forms of political support in return. That has begun to change, however. Cambodia's governing elites have become more dependent on China, more beholden to Beijing's policy preferences, and more closely identified with China by critics at home and abroad. Cambodia is thus beginning to experience more of the risks inherent in any patron-client pact, suggesting an imbalance in its foreign relations that augurs poorly for the future if current trends continue.

Keywords: China, Cambodia, patron-client, alliance, international relations, Southeast Asia

Suggested Citation

Ciorciari, John D., China and Cambodia: Patron and Client? (June 14, 2013). International Policy Center Working Paper No. 121. Available at SSRN: or

John David Ciorciari (Contact Author)

University of Michigan - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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