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Coronavirus

Hun Sen offers Wuhan visit, while Pakistan resumes China flights

Beijing's clout generates measured responses to the virus crisis with some allies

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Jan. 30 that Phnom Penh's decision not to evacuate students from Wuhan is a form of "soft diplomacy."   © AP

HANOI -- Even as many countries curb travel to and from China amid the coronavirus outbreak, two countries with close ties to Beijing -- Cambodia and Pakistan -- are signaling support by keeping their doors open.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that he will visit Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, if China agrees, local media quoted him as saying.

"Why would Hun Sen not dare go to Wuhan to visit Cambodian students studying" there, he said in Seoul. The city remains under a lockdown intended to keep the virus from spreading.

Cambodia has indicated that it will not evacuate its nationals from China or halt flights to or from the country, setting it apart from other Southeast Asian nations that have taken a more cautious approach. The country had confirmed just one case as of Sunday.

China accounts for roughly 70% of Cambodia's foreign direct investment, a major driver of the nation's economic growth of around 7% in recent years. Hun Sen, who has ruled for three decades, appears to see tighter ties with China as a way to maintain his grip on power.

The prime minister last week called the decision not to evacuate the students from Wuhan a form of "soft diplomacy" and warned that China would stop offering scholarships if they were flown out.

Diplomacy also seems to be at play in Pakistan's decision Monday to resume flights to and from China, reported by Agence France-Presse.

China has supplied Pakistan with billions of dollars in infrastructure loans as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Concerns about the virus have brought some of these projects to a halt as Chinese and local workers are screened.

Health authorities have expressed confidence in Pakistan's ability to keep the virus out -- an assertion questioned by medical experts there. The country has no confirmed coronavirus cases, though four Pakistani students living in Wuhan have been infected.

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