The Los Angeles Times reports the former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, has died in Beijing due to natural causes:
Sihanouk had various forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension and had sought medical care in China since 2004, when he abdicated in favor of his son due to old age and health problems. He died two weeks short of his 90th birthday.
“This is a great loss for Cambodia. We feel very sad. The former king was a great king who we all respect and love,”Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Nhik Bun Chhay was quoted as telling the New China News Agency.
The news agency said reigning King Norodom Sihamoni, Sihanouk’s son, will fly to Beijing to retrieve the body and return it to Cambodia for a traditional funeral.
Sihanouk, ailing with prostate cancer, spent most of his last years in Beijing. His people continued to revere him as a god-king in the 1,000-year tradition of the Angkor Empire—the monarchy was, after all, the only institution they were still able to believe in — but Sihanouk seemed increasingly distant and depressed by the belief that every national aspiration he had worked for failed.
In response to the former king’s death, high profile figures have expressed their condolences. China has had a growing influence in Cambodia in the past as Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, promised to cement ties with the country. More recently, China has relied on Cambodia for support in the ASEAN summit, especially with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. From The Voice of America:
China’s foreign ministry called Sihanouk a “great friend of the Chinese people,” and on state television, Chinese officials praised ties with the former king. Several high-ranking Chinese leaders, including Vice President Xi Jinping, paid condolences to Sihanouk’s widow in China’s capital, where Sihanouk had been seeking medical treatment since January.
China has close political and financial ties to Cambodia, and International Relations Professor Ren Xiao of Shanghai’s Fudan University said the former king was an important part of that relationship.
“When he was in difficulty, and in danger, China helped him and continued to consider him leader of Cambodia” said Ren Xiao.
Sihanouk, whose political life in Cambodia and in exile spanned almost six decades, first visited China in 1956. Chinese state media Xinhua says at that time he developed personal relationships with China’s leaders, including the then premier Zhou Enlai and communist leader Mao Zedong.
Jiang said in the message that Sihanouk was an outstanding leader of Cambodia who had dedicated his life to Cambodia’s national reconciliation and development, and had made immortal contributions to the realization of peace, stability and prosperity in Cambodia.
Jiang said he met many times with Sihanouk, who was a founder, guardian and propeller of the Sino-Cambodian friendship, and he expressed deep regret over the loss of such a great friend.
Sihanouk would live in the hearts of the Chinese people and the Cambodian people forever, Jiang said.
Aside from condolence messages from high profile politicians, China Daily released a statement of condolence calling the former king a “versatile musician and romantic ruler”:
Throughout his long life, Cambodia’s former king, Norodom Sihanouk, remained a versatile and romantic man, despite his varied political activities and numerous personal upheavals.
Sihanouk displayed a talent for art and music when still a primary student, and over the course of his life composed more than 30 songs extolling his country and singing the praises of the friendship between China and Cambodia. Miss China and China, My Second Homeland are among his best-known compositions. Some observers believed that Sihanouk would have been a great musician, had he not become his country’s king.
In a video shown on Cambodia’s state-owned television in February 2003, Sihanouk sang for 60 minutes, accompanied by a six-piece band composed of family members. In 2002, at a banquet after an ASEAN summit, Sihanouk danced with two female political leaders, his elegant dancing garnering much praise.
Sihanouk was also interested in making movies. Between 1966 and 1997, he made 19 films,combining the roles of writer, director and actor. In one of his movies, the story of a political coup, he starred as the deposed leader.