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brother in arms

Title: Brothers in Arms
Subtitle: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979
Edition: First Edition
Title First Published: 27 February 2014
Page: 192


When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975, they inherited a war-ravaged and internationally isolated country. Pol Pot’s government espoused the rhetoric of self-reliance, but Democratic Kampuchea was utterly dependent on Chinese foreign aid and technical assistance to survive. Yet in a markedly asymmetrical relationship between a modernizing, nuclear power and a virtually premodern state, China was largely unable to use its power to influence Cambodian politics or policy. In Brothers in Arms, Andrew Mertha traces this surprising lack of influence to variations between the Chinese and Cambodian institutions that administered military aid, technology transfer, and international trade.

Today, China’s extensive engagement with the developing world suggests an inexorably rising China in the process of securing a degree of economic and political dominance that was unthinkable even a decade ago. Yet, China’s experience with its first-ever client state suggests that the effectiveness of Chinese foreign aid, and influence that comes with it, is only as good as the institutions that manage the relationship. By focusing on the links between China and Democratic Kampuchea, Mertha peers into the “black box” of Chinese foreign aid to illustrate how domestic institutional fragmentation limits Beijing’s ability to influence the countries that accept its assistance.


1. China’s Relations with Democratic Kampuchea
2. The Khmer Rouge Bureaucracy
3. The Bureaucratic Structure of Chinese Overseas Assistance
4. DK Pushback and Military Institutional Integrity
5. The Failure of the Kampong Som Petroleum Refinery Project
6. China’s Development of Democratic Kampuchean Trade
7. What Is Past Is Present

Review by Experts

“A marvelous book. Brothers in Arms explores the vexed relationship between China and the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, when China, for better or worse, was Cambodia’s most generous friend. Andrew Mertha talked to dozens of Cambodians and Chinese who worked together in the Khmer Rouge era. He has buttressed this research with forays into unexploited archival collections. The outcome—a   judicious, vividly written analysis of the Sino-Khmer encounter—is deft, path-breaking, and persuasive.”—David Chandler, Monash University, author of A History of Cambodia
“Nobody gets into the plumbing of policy implementation like Andrew Mertha. Here, he probes the bureaucracies of China and Democratic Kampuchea to understand their aid relationship and how the DK was sometimes able to parry Chinese pressures but got pulled into the Chinese orbit at other times. Bureaucratic politics has long been understood to be critical in domestic policy; now Mertha extends this approach into foreign policy. All those examining China’s burgeoning relations with Latin America, Africa, and other places will want to absorb the lessons of this book.”—Joseph Fewsmith, Boston University