Khmer ways

Jack Weatherford

Zhou Daguan. Photograph : Damien Chavanat

Only one book survives from the Khmer Empire. Now the oldest book on Cambodia, it was the report of an envoy sent by the Mongol emperor in 1296 to live for one year in the Khmer capital and report on the customs and commerce of the country they called by the exotic and mysterious name Zhenla.

Today, Chinese trade and diplomatic missions to Cambodia come and go frequently as part of President Xi Jinping’s “Maritime Silk Road” connecting countries across the South China Sea and through the Indian Ocean to Africa and the Mediterranean in a single trading system. Southeast Asia forms a major link in the network, and, half way between China and India, Cambodia — which borders on Laos and Vietnam as well as the sea, with direct access to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia — has emerged as a key player and China’s closest ally. This special relationship between China and Cambodia began over 700 years ago, when the Mongol delegation proceeded up the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers to the imperial court of Indravarman III in Yashodharapura, better known today as Angkor Thom, located north of the more famous Angkor Wat.

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