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September 27, 2017

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Norodom Sihanouk and China: a lifelong alliance

BEIJING -- Through decades of turmoil at home, former Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk enjoyed vital political and medical succor from China, a staunch ally that provided the mercurial leader with a second home.

For more than 40 years, Sihanouk had at his disposal a stately and luxurious residence in the heart of Beijing, a grey-walled complex just a short distance from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

The historic residence — the French embassy in the early 1900s, it was put at his disposal in 1970 by China's late Premier Zhou Enlai — is a stone's-throw from the hospital where he died on Monday.

The relationship between Sihanouk and his Chinese hosts was often rocky as China simultaneously supported the radical Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk's on-again, off-again allies.

But the late Cambodian so-called "father-king" praised the Beijing doctors who sustained him physically and the Chinese Communist state that propped him up politically through dark times.

"Long live the fraternal and indestructible friendship uniting the kingdom of Cambodia and the glorious People's Republic of China!" he wrote in 2009 on his website which he maintained until just recently.

The Cambodia monarch had received regular medical treatment in Beijing since being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994.

During his extended stays in the city, he often offered biting commentary on Cambodia's fractious politics, decrying nepotism, corruption, the abuse of the "little people" and the pillaging of natural resources.

He maintained a long friendship with China's communist leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou, whom he met at the Bandung Conference of non-aligned nations in Indonesia in 1955.

"I've always considered China as my second homeland ... only China has supported us, the Khmer resistance, the Soviet Union does not want us," he said in 1971.

China repaid the praise on Monday in offering condolences over his death.

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