Important news during the second week of January 2019

How Vietnam lost and China won Cambodia

But the question remains whether Cambodia is moving closer to China at the expense of Vietnam, or is the CPP moving closer to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the expense of the Vietnam’s Communist Party? Beijing is now offering the same party-to-party exchanges and “soft power” roles that used to be exclusive to Hanoi.

More civil servants and ministry officials are traveling to China on visits to observe how politics operates there. Most ministries have signed bilateral agreements to boost joint cooperation. Beijing has also funded new think tanks in Cambodia, and is even paying for Cambodian journalists to visit China to study alongside their Chinese counterparts.

Thanks to scholarship programs, more than 1,000 Cambodians have now studied at Chinese universities, many of whom will go onto hold positions of influence. Most are likely to return imbued with China’s outlook on world affairs, in which Vietnam often plays the role of adversary, especially in regards to the South China Sea.

In December, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged more support for youth exchanges programs when he met Hun Many, one of Hun Sen’s sons who serves as president of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, a CPP-aligned organization.

Another explanation of shifts in party-to-party relations between Cambodia and Vietnam is the supremacy of Hun Sen over the CPP. Analysts say that CPP grandees, like the late Chea Sim, the party’s president between 1991 to 2015, were avowedly pro-Vietnam.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng is another senior CPP official who is said to still have very close ties to Hanoi, though his control over the party is certainly not as significant as Hun Sen’s. The death or fading influence of such pro-Vietnam officials has allowed the CPP to rethink its foreign relations, analysts say.

Hun Sen (R) with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who some analysts say could become the next prime minister. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

Hun Sen (R) with Interior Minister Sar Kheng. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

“At least since 2008, Hun Sen has held almost all the cards in the CPP. Hun Sen was initially balancing between Vietnam and China. His decision to move closer to China was backed by the CPP because Hun Sen effectively is the CPP,” says Chambers.

There are also clear changes in military-to-military relations as China’s armed forces form even closer relations with Cambodia’s – possibly making Vietnam’s military ties less important in the process.

The two sides now hold regular joint training exercises, dubbed “Golden Dragon”, and Beijing invites senior Cambodian defense officials on state visits. This has become even more important after Phnom Penh postponed, for an undisclosed time, joint training operations with the US military, which is forming increasingly closer ties to Vietnam’s armed forces.

In recent years, China has also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support Cambodia’s military, including an additional US$130 million it provided last year to the defense sector. China also pledged US$2.5 million last year to help clear unexploded ordnance left behind by the Khmer Rouge, a donor area that used to be provided mainly by the US and Japan.

In November, this journalist co-authored a report for Asia Times on rumors that China was lobbying to build a naval base in southwest Cambodia, and correctly predicted the issue would be raised by senior US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, when they attended Asian conferences at the time.

Cambodian naval officers during a sea drill. Photo: Wikipedia

Cambodian naval officers during a sea drill. Photo: Wikipedia

Hun Sen and other senior Cambodian politicians have spent the last two months denying the allegation.

When he visited Vietnam in December, Hun Sen told his counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc that the report was “fake news, lying news and destructive news,” while repeating his oft-stated rebuttal that “the constitution of Cambodia does not allow any foreign military bases in the Kingdom.”

In the past two years alone, however, the CPP has shown its constitution to be easily malleable for its political and other purposes. As for the future of trilateral relations between Cambodia, Vietnam and China, it is likely to continue down the same path it has been moving in recent years.

Rhetorically, Cambodia will remain equidistant between its two allies. Vietnam will be heralded as Cambodia’s liberator and historic ally. China’s role in funding the Khmer Rouge will be torn from the CPP’s history book, as will almost all occasions when Hun Sen didn’t see Beijing as Cambodia’s “ironclad friend.”

But, in diplomatic reality, Vietnam will play second fiddle as China has much more to offer Cambodia 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime Beijing once supported and Hanoi overthrew.

Continue to read the entire article at Asia Time…

Mass sackings send chill through Cambodian garment factories

Thousands of workers from factories in and around Phnom Penh went on strike last week amid fears bosses were plotting to circumvent a new government edict to pay – and backpay – bonuses based on length of employment.

A court found the strikes were illegal and ordered workers back to factory floors. About 1,200 who ignored the order had their contracts torn up, labor groups said.

The sackings fuel longstanding anxieties about job security and the fight for decent working conditions in Cambodia’s largest industry, which employs about 700,000 people and accounts for 40 percent of gross domestic product.

“It sends a kind of fear through the industry, particularly for those workers who have a limited knowledge of the law,” said Khun Tharo, a program coordinator at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights.

“It is not 100 percent clear how the new rules should be implemented, and I am concerned that without more education on that, we could be headed toward another period of labor unrest.”

Continue to read entire article at Reuters…

Coons, Cruz introduce Cambodian Trade Act

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced the Cambodian Trade Act of 2019, which would require the administration to review the preferential trade treatment Cambodia receives under the General System of Preferences.

“I question whether Cambodia should have preferential access to U.S. markets,” said Coons. “Countries that undermine democracy, ignore labor standards, disregard human rights and fail to protect intellectual property should not enjoy special trade privileges. During his 34-year reign, Hun Sen has shown his disdain for the rule of law and basic freedoms in Cambodia. I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill to reexamine Cambodia’s eligibility for benefits under the largest and oldest U.S. trade preference program to hold the Cambodian government to account.”

“America has invested in the political future of Cambodia by establishing reliable trade and commerce, as codified in the Generalized System of Preferences,” said Cruz. “Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has exploited preferential treatment afforded to it by the U.S. and Europe. He has failed to meet basic labor rights standards, undermined the integrity of elections in Cambodia, and tilted toward China. The Cambodian Trade Act aims to hold him and his government accountable for this behavior, and reinforces steps our European partners are taking.”

Source, and he full bill text is available at bit.ly/2FnyHMn

Hun Sen regime’s nefarious activities Down Under

December 2018 marked the end of a landmark year for Australian-Cambodian relations. Cambodia’s government has been engaged in diverse business and political activities on Australian soil since 2015 but they reached a zenith in 2018, just before the Southeast Asian country’s prime minister, Hun Sen, unveiled a huge statue marking 20 years as ruler. 

Diplomatic relations with Cambodia were formally on the agenda of the 48th National Conference of the Australian Labor Party, which was held for the first time in Adelaide. The conference was attended by over 2,000 Labor Party delegates from across the country.The dailyReport Must-reads from across Asia – directly to your inbox

Julian Hill, a Labour MP for Victoria, called on his party conference to support a resolution requesting that the next federal Labor government end Canberra’s tolerance of increasingly controversial Cambodian government-backed activities in Australia. Hill’s website says that he has evidence of Cambodian links to illegal activities such as money laundering and drug dealing.  

Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that the Cambodian prime minister’s son, Hun Manet, has been building a support network across Australia that links university students and business people with his father’s political party since 2015. Hun Manet, whom observers believe is being groomed by his father to be Cambodia’s next prime minister, signed up hundreds of supporters after giving out free gifts and inviting expats to a lavish dinner and reception.

Like all the sons of the Cambodian leader, who has controlled the country for 33 years, he is western educated – he is a West Point graduate with a PhD from Bristol University. Hun Manet arrived in Australia in October 2016 with a huge entourage, and he has been busy building support for his father ’s political party through universities and expatriate community groups ever since.

Hun Manet’s mission is to create a Cambodian political network in Australia by recruiting students and businesses

Hun Manet’s mission is to create a Cambodian political network in Australia by recruiting students and businesses. He is internationalizing authoritarianism by strengthening his father’s patronage system abroad.

Hill told the Labor Party Conference delegates how the Cambodian regime has become steadily more dictatorial since it banned all opposition parties in November 2017, leading to it winning every single seat in the spring 2018 general election. Hill’s conference resolution explained how a series of moves by the Cambodian government has resulted in the European Parliament declaring Cambodia an “authoritarian state.” 

The Labor Party Conference motion gave many expatriate Cambodians hope that under a different government, Australia would be far more likely to take a tougher stand against a raft of controversial and possibly illegal Phnom Penh–backed activities that are alleged to be taking place. 

Hun Manet’s mission is to build a surveillance network that would see parts of Australia and New Zealand being divided up for de facto administration by Cambodia’s generals, who aim to exert control over students and to influence other members of the diaspora during intermittent visits to the country. The aim is to reinforce the regime back home by securing expatriate support.

Continue to read full news at Asia Time…

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