Cambodia China Relations

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 10, 2017

Cambodia Wants China as Its Neighborhood Bully

Op-Ed: Foreign Policy

Cambodia Wants China as Its Neighborhood Bully

Cambodia Wants China as Its Neighborhood Bully

In the closing months of 2016, all of Southeast Asia seemed to be pivoting toward China. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was hailed as a “visionary leader” by fellow Malaysian politicians for “tilting to China.” Thailand agreed to build an arms-maintenance and production center for China’s People’s Liberation Army, and the president of the Philippines declared in a speech delivered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People: “In this venue I announce my separation from the United States.”

Americans have been left to ask: What did we do wrong? What has caused the leaders of Southeast Asia to turn away from Washington and toward Beijing? It is tempting to look for the answer to these questions in the policies of the Obama or Xi administrations, or blame it on shifting fortunes in the balance of power. But focusing on the spectacle of Sino-American rivalry masks the dozens of smaller dramas and power plays that usually escape the attention of Western observers. Often it is these smaller conflicts of interest that drive lesser powers into the arms of the great ones.

There is no better example of this than Cambodia, one of the first countries in the region to openly align itself with China. Cambodia’s position became clear in 2012, when it prevented ASEAN from issuing a joint communiqué that mentioned the South China Sea. Long-standing Cambodian dictator Hun Sen has reaped many rewards for this decision: In October, China granted Cambodia $237 million in direct aid, $90 million in canceled debt, and an additional $15 million in military support. Yet there is more behind Cambodian support for China than the size of Beijing’s pocketbook. In the minds of many Cambodians, the most difficult geopolitical challenge facing their country is not balancing the demands of the United States and China, but managing its relationship with Vietnam, an undertaking that cannot be successful without Chinese cooperation.

Ethnic disharmony is not hard to spot in Southeast Asia, but few of its prejudices — outside of the Myanmese hatred toward the Rohingya, at least — can match the distrust and disgust the average Khmer feels toward the Vietnamese. Recall how conservative Americans talked about the Soviet Union at the height of communist power, add the way their counterparts in modern Europe discuss Arab immigration now, and then throw in a dash of the humiliation that marked Germany in interwar years, and then you might come close to getting a fair idea of how wild and vitriolic a force anti-Vietnamese rhetoric is in Cambodian politics.

Cambodians have not forgotten the centuries of warfare that led Vietnamese armies to pillage the Khmer heartland and strip away more than half of its territory. Cambodian nationalists still pine for Khmer krom (“Lower Khmer”), a term used to describe both the ethnic Khmer living outside Cambodia and the lands they inhabit.

Without the intervention of the French in the 1860s, which transformed Cambodia into a French protectorate and southern Vietnam into a French colony, Cambodia would have been totally swallowed by the Vietnamese maw. French imperialism brought peace, but not harmony: Relations between the two groups only worsened under colonial control, as the French gave the Vietnamese a privileged status, and imperial policy supported Vietnamese migration to the Cambodian heartland. The subsequent governments that came to power in post-colonial times — the Sisowath, Lon Nol, and Khmer Rouge regimes — relied on anti-Vietnamese rhetoric to legitimize their rule to the Cambodian people.

Historically informed Cambodians are quick to point out that the Khmer Rouge was a creation of the Viet Cong; the more conspiratorial of their countrymen insist that the Khmer Rouge’s massacres were directed by them as well. Conspiratorial or not, Cambodians remember that 150,000 Vietnamese soldiers invaded Cambodia in 1978 and then occupied their country as foreign conquerors for the next 10 years. Though that decade-long war was not entirely the fault of the Vietnamese (China, Thailand, and the United States would support their own armed proxies), the violence of Vietnam’s counterinsurgency operations slowly eroded what goodwill they had earned by removing the Khmer Rouge from power.

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Posted by: | Posted on: November 30, 2016

The border scheme and the controversial map between Cambodia and Vietnam

Recalling the Scheme:

Recently, the scene of Cambodia politics has shifted from violence-pro activities orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet towards discussing sensitive issue each competitive political party is

Courtesy: Phnom Penh Post in Khmer Language

Courtesy: Phnom Penh Post in Khmer Language

challenging to draw attention from the public for election support. As the matter of fact, CNRP has been cornered by Prime Minister Hun Sen in many aspects: after CNRP MPs entered the Parliament building, the “culture of dialogue” was promoted between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy by leaving Khem Sokha in limbo; but while this approach is not meaningful for Hun Sen, the violence habit did occur instantly such as pro-CPP violent demonstrators to oust Khem Sokha from first vice president of the Assembly, and the severe physical attack on two CNRP MP members namely Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sophea; the use of court to convict and jail both top leaders: Sam Rainsy and Khem Sokha, and the continual measures to tightening the politics of threat towards all CNRP’s members.

While the political misbehaviour of Prime Minister and his Cabinet has been unable to be checked by the State’s institution, the mischievous actions don’t translate righteousness to Prime Minister at all in order to maintain his long term political career on behalf of CPP party chief as well as in front of millions of Cambodian voters who have been concerting towards “change” for this country through the power of “ballot”.

Engagement between the Youngs and the Olds in Cambodia:

Courtesy: Cambodia Daily

Courtesy: Cambodia Daily

While the technical issue of map has longed of its disarray on the border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam, as now it is appearing for a public stunt, the disclosure of private conversation between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha aka petite advisor Prime Minister called during whatsapp chatting, has significantly overhauled the violence’s status quo and it has likely been attempted to be forgotten. The chatting was uncertain at the beginning but after more leaks have come to the public especially the chatting between Thy Sovantha with Hun Manith, son of Hun Sen who is holding special position in the government as FBI-like department, to organize force to topple and humiliate opposition’s leaders unlawfully, the online childish-like chit-chatting is assumed genuine. Through those lengthy chit-chatting, one could summarize the topics are from personal health check, to family members linkage, to plans of toppling and intimidating opponents, and to disbursing one million of dollars to cover up Thy Sovantha’s assigned tasks etc.

What is intriguing for the public and Cambodian observers is the chit-chatting between grandpa and grandchild sounds non-serious, nonsensical, and miscellaneously. But the outcomes from such miscellaneous has surely shivered the opponents on prospective violence that have been running unchecked by the State. As the secrete has embodied to the public, the action plans from this unlawful activity might be undeterred, and the youngs are visibly exploited by the olds at the highest.

Cambodia’s Border Scheme through lens of the Pragmatists, the Conservationists, and the Whistle-blowers:

Courtesy: RFA Khmer Service

Courtesy: RFA Khmer Service

After listening to RFA in Khmer services for their “call-in-show-forum” program (as recorded in youtube here), listeners might be serious, entertained, or sitting idle as usual. The five guests have expressed their diverse opinions among one is representing government (sic), and other four are representing non-governmental citizens; unfortunately, we didn’t have one official representation of the government to the show. With explicit ardent interrogative questions from the host, Mr. Chun Chanbot, Sam Rainsy who is president of the CNRP has exhibited his pragmatism into the issue more than other elses. His approach to always anticipating “dialogue” to keep the flame alive over all sensitive issues within Cambodian contexts. His firm stance on protecting Cambodia interests doesn’t mean he must reject other alternative scenarios.

The border’s scheme between Cambodia and Vietnam, like it or not, it has become a play full of fever audience, screaming, exploitation, and deadly consequences. For static conservationists, the great past of Cambodia must be revitalized while their actions and plans are not tabled to discuss on how and when we are going to achieve it. For whistle-blowers, the noisy street talkers are usual in their daily business, while the doers are always facing searing deadlock. As a leader of more than half of total country-population voters, Sam Rainsy has scrupulously stepped ahead many steps to ensure the boat is vital leading to “ballot” power in 2017 and 2018. In short, the triggering scenario from Prime Minister must be attentively conveyed although we don’t know how much PM has seriously studied on such proposal, but it is a politics which means so much on its consistent changing moment to always anchor the momentum. The agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam to propose legal map from France government to judge on all odds of border demarcation irregularities between the two states is heard from government’s rhetoric, but till today we have not seen any public note or transparency from such agreement. If government’s border-related department don’t disclose the agreement to officially request map from France, and if none of the other Cambodian parties have joint this task-force, the business of border politics is not different from those static conservationists and street talkers.

Cambodia needs a “complete one-package framework” to solve border scheme as well as to alter borderline politicization that has always hindered sustainable growth of Cambodia.

Posted by: | Posted on: September 26, 2016

Political Paradigm of Pragmatism from the Khmer Youth part 76

Political Paradigm of Pragmatism from the Khmer Youth part 76

This part (76), Mr. Sophan described the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam after many harsh exchanges of attack through Hun Sen’s facebook page as a new show Hun Sen has drawn attention his electorates.

"Cambodia-Vietnam War Monument" is standing majestically in centre of Phnom Penh. Courtesy: horchange.blogspot

“Cambodia-Vietnam War Monument” is standing majestically in centre of Phnom Penh. Courtesy: horchange.blogspot

Interestingly, the war of pen through social media is just an individual exchange of idea and opinion. Cambodia foreign ministry also wrote letter to Vietnamese government through their embassy in Phnom Penh to seek explanation and punishment about this Vietnamese citizens facebooking expression. Vietnamese government responded with its political maturity by stating that the matter is just an individual freedom of expression. It is not representing Vietnamese government at all.

The exchange of attacks through social media intrigued Chinese State military news outlet penned down the brusk as a good step of Prime Minister Hun Sen and praised of his leadership including mentioning his Chinese blood descendant.

He concluded that foreign policy Hun Sen is conducting right now has truly reflected Cambodia’s political turmoils during the cold war: Khmer Rouge was established and trained by Vietnam but took China as its ally to counter-strike Vietnam. But this time, Vietnam has worked to gain many allies and it has achieved more than during that time. This reality shows how Hun Sen’s foreign policy is dangerous for Cambodia?

Posted by: | Posted on: August 12, 2015

Machiavelli’s Lessons Cambodia approaches China, leaving the United States in the dust. Can it retain its freedom?

Comment: The author has well balanced his argument on choice Cambodia made with China in its foreign policy that can tip the navy of this nation if the policy shifted too much towards China without aligning with USA, ASEAN member states, and other super countries. The author academically termed “alignment” not “alliance” for Cambodia to strengthening tie with China. What author has missed out the important parts is the two pragmatic factors: the Cambodia constitution and lesson learnt during the Khmer Rouge regime.

First, Cambodia constitution firmly claims that Cambodia is a neutral nation state and non-alignment. Cambodia is friendly to all outside nation states. No other state(s) can use Cambodia as their military base or influencing site for their advantage etc.

Second, China supported the Khmer Rouge, and Cambodian people have been bitterly suffered. USA also supported the Khmer Rouge. But aids from USA to the Khmer Rouge were used by someone there, we don’t know who? China’s aids to Khmer Rouge were also used by someone there, we don’t know who? But the usage of those aids within Khmer Rouge cadres tended to destroy their cadres, not to save their company at all, not mention about using those aids to support the nation. Are these unknown users are supper secrete? May be not at all. Before Khmer Rouge turned 90 degree to China, KR was under supervision of Vietnam (North Vietnam or Vietminh, critically). This is the truth of history, undeniably.

Now, Hun Sen (head) has aligned or turned 90 degrees to China, should the old trauma haunt Cambodia again? No one know. But Khmer people nationwide have been vigilant on their political vision that “Head goes to China while Body and Feet are strong with Vietnam“.

Machiavelli’s Lessons Cambodia approaches China, leaving the United States in the dust. Can it retain its freedom?

Op-Ed: The Diplomat

By Cheunboran Chanborey
August 11, 2015

Image Credit: Ari V/ Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: Ari V/ Shutterstock.com

As part of the United States’ ‘pivot’ to Asia, the Obama Administration has taken further steps to broaden engagement with Cambodia, primarily in response to China’s rapidly growing influence in the country and in the broader Lower Mekong region.

Diplomatically, U.S. high-level officials have started visiting Cambodia more frequently. For instance, in 2012, a series of U.S. leaders engaged with Cambodia’s leadership, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk—all this while Cambodia was hosting the ASEAN-U.S. Leaders’ Meeting and other ASEAN-related meetings. Two major visits occurred earlier this year in Phnom Penh—the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in March 2015, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Asia Pacific Daniel Russel in January. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama also visited Cambodia in March 2015.

Militarily, the U.S. government has maintained a small but sustained level of engagement with the Cambodian military, which includes naval port visits, joint exercises, and military assistance. From 2007 to 2012, eight U.S. naval ships made port calls in Cambodia and engaged in joint military exercises with the Cambodian armed forces. Cambodia and the U.S. also jointly conducted the bilateral Angkor Sentinel peacekeeping exercises four years in the row, beginning in 2010. As of 2014, the U.S. allocated $0.45 million to an “International Military Education and Training” program to help Cambodian military officers with their English-language skills, leadership training, military professionalism, human rights awareness, and counterterrorism practices.

Economically, the U.S. is the largest foreign market for Cambodian goods, accounting for about half of the country’s garment exports—an industry that employs approximately 400,000 workers in the kingdom. Cambodia is also the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar. In 2014, the U.S. provided assistance worth $70.9 million, mostly to non-governmental organizations and humanitarian programs in Cambodia.

At the sub-regional level, the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI)—launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009—is a regional foreign assistance effort, amounting to $425 million for 2009-2011 period. It aims to help lower Mekong countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, in the areas of agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, the environment and water management, and health. In 2014, the State Department provided an additional $14.3 million for the LMI.

Although the relationship has recently been strengthened, there are a number of impediments for Cambodia and the United States in developing deeper bilateral ties.

Trust Deficit Between Phnom Penh and Washington

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 22, 2015

Analysts See Cambodia Bolstering Military Ties With China

Analysts See Cambodia Bolstering Military Ties With China

Neou Vannarin, July 21, 2015 4:48 PM
FILE - Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh, second left, shakes hands with a Chinese army adviser during a graduation ceremony at the Army Institute in Kampong Speu province, March 12, 2015.

FILE – Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh, second left, shakes hands with a Chinese army adviser during a graduation ceremony at the Army Institute in Kampong Speu province, March 12, 2015.

Cambodia is strengthening its military ties with China, and analysts say it is likely to continue doing so for the forseeable future.

Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh made a five-day trip to China last week, meeting with high-ranking military officials and receiving pledges of assistance from the Chinese military.

In a recent interview, he told the VOA Khmer service that the visit was successful in bringing military cooperation between the countries even closer. That relationship is closer than Cambodia’s military ties with the U.S., he said.

Analysts say Phnom Penh is likely to look more and more to Beijing for support because of growing tensions with its old patron, Vietnam, over border issues.

Cambodia and China have traditionally enjoyed close relations, and they became noticeably closer after 2012 when Cambodia, as host of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, sided with China over the contentious South China Sea issue.

The following year, Beijing provided Phnom Penh with a $195 million loan, which bought 12 Chinese Z-9 military helicopters. In May of this year, China pledged military trucks, spare parts, equipment and unspecified chemicals.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has often touted the relationship. During the inauguration of a Chinese-funded road in Kampong Som province last month, he told a group of farmers that Cambodian-Chinese relations were at an all-time high, and that the two were moving toward a “comprehensive” partnership. China’s development fund for Cambodia for 2015 amounted to $140 million, up from $100 million the year before, he said.

Tea Banh defended the bilateral relationship, saying Chinese aid came with no strings attached and that China had never interfered in Cambodian affairs. He declined to disclose how much aid Cambodia would receive from his latest trip.

Benefits for China

Yet analysts warn that China is getting more out of the deal than Cambodia. Chheang Vannarith, a visiting professor at the University of Leeds in England, said China needs Cambodia as a partner in Southeast Asia, where competition is rising.

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 13, 2015

Cambodia’s Strategic China Alignment

Cambodia’s Strategic China Alignment

A number of factors are driving Cambodia’s strategic convergence with China.
By Cheunboran Chanborey
July 08, 2015
The Diplomat

The Diplomat

According to conventional wisdom, the international system leaves small states less room for maneuver. Cambodia is no exception. Since the kingdom won its independence from France in 1953, it had been preoccupied with protecting that independence, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity. During the Cold War, Cambodian foreign policymakers  tried various approaches, from neutrality to alliances with major power(s) and, worst of all, isolationism. Yet Cambodia remained a victim of power politics, and ended up with a civil war and some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Early in the 21st century, China has emerged as a regional and global power. China’s power and influence can be felt in all corners of the globe, most evidently in continental Southeast Asia. In this context, the Cambodia-China bilateral relationship has experienced a remarkable transformation over the last decade or so. Although rooted in mistrust due to the involvement of China in Cambodia’s civil war and social strife, especially Beijing’s support for the Khmer Rouge regime, bilateral ties have noticeably consolidated and improved since 1997.
In December 2010, the two countries upgraded their bilateral ties to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.’ Cambodia continues to attach great economic and strategic importance to China’s rise.
Economically, China plays an increasingly important role in the socio-economic development of Cambodia as its primary trading partner, largest source of foreign direct investment, and top provider of development assistance and soft loans. Noticeably, two-way trade between Cambodia and China grew from $2.34 billion in 2012 to around $3.3 billion in 2013. Recently, the two countries agreed to boost their bilateral trade to reach the target of $5 billion by 2017. Similarly, Chinese investment in Cambodia in 2013 rose 65 percent, to $435.82 million compared to $263.59 million in 2012. More importantly, Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia reached $2.7 billion in 2012, making it one of the latter’s largest donors. Moreover, Cambodia will reap enormous benefits from new Chinese initiatives such as the Maritime Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Militarily, China is the biggest source of assistance to Cambodia’s armed forces in various forms. In May 2012, Cambodia and China signed a military cooperation agreement in which China agreed to provide $17 million to Cambodia to build military hospitals and military training schools for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and promised to continue training military personnel in Cambodia. The latter is, according to Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh, a “great contribution to improving the Cambodian army’s capacity in national defense.” It is worth noting that Chinese military assistance increased remarkably at a time when Cambodia badly needed to build up its defense forces due to the increasingly tense border dispute with Thailand from 2008 to 2011.
Victim of Location
In geopolitical and strategic terms, Cambodia had been a victim of its location as a country sandwiched between two powerful and historically antagonistic neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The history of Cambodia vividly suggests that over the six hundred years following the fall of the Khmer Empire, Thailand and later Vietnam regularly defeated Khmer armies and annexed Khmer territories. The two countries had always attempted to impose their suzerainty over Cambodia. Cambodia’s acceptance of the French protectorate in 1863 was an escape from suzerainty.
The eruption of a border conflict with Thailand from 2008 to 2011 reminded Cambodian leaders that its stronger neighbors remain a security threat to the kingdom’s territorial integrity. It also prompted Cambodian leaders to rethink the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. In fact, since becoming a member of ASEAN in 1999, the regional grouping has always been the cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy. Cambodian policymakers were convinced that ASEAN would be a crucial regional platform through which their country could safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its strategic and economic interests. However, it seems that Cambodia’s confidence in ASEAN has faded due to the grouping’s ineffective response to the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute.

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