Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a visit meant as an act of sympathy towards the 23 Cambodian students stranded in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.
The prime minister will not make it to Wuhan, which is in lockdown, but will meet top Chinese officials to learn more about the situation of Cambodians stuck in China as the coronavirus spreads.
The death toll of the outbreak has now risen to 490, with 65 deaths reported in mainland China in just one day. All the new fatalities were in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
China now counts more than 24,300 cases, with a much smaller number in other countries. Two people have died of the disease outside of mainland China – one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
A post on the prime minister’s Facebook page on Tuesday said while on a trip to South Korea, Hun Sen requested the Chinese authorities for permission to travel to Wuhan to lend his support to Cambodian students there.
However, they declined the request on the basis that Wuhan authorities would not have had enough time to prepare for his visit. They invited Hun Sen to go to Beijing instead.
“Because my Chinese friends understand that I am concerned for the safety of Cambodian students living in China, on Wednesday, the Chinese government allowed me to travel to Beijing.
“I will be paying a courtesy visit to my Chinese counterparts to understand how the government is taking care of our brothers and sisters studying in Wuhan city,” the post said.
The same post noted that Hun Sen would not be able to meet the Wuhan students as they are not allowed to leave the city.
The prime minister’s decision to travel to China is likely a direct response to critics that challenged him to go to Wuhan to support Cambodians there.
Detractors were concerned about Hun Sen’s decision last week not to evacuate Cambodian students and officials in China.
The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Tuesday said in a press release that Prime Minister Hun Sen was in China at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“During the visit, Samdech Techo Prime Minister will have a meeting with His Excellency Li Keqiang to discuss cooperation in various fields and exchange views on the coronavirus epidemic and other issues.
“The prime minister will also pay a courtesy visit to His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China,” the press release said.
Hun Sen’s delegation to China includes Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn as well as members of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce.
Concerned for Hun Sen’s safety, Pen Baraing, one of the Cambodian students in Wuhan, took to Facebook to plead with the prime minister not come near the city.
“Please, father, don’t visit me here. It is not the right time. Please return home after your summit in South Korea. I wish to see that you are safe back home,” the post said.