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Interview: Senior Pentagon Official Visits Cambodia, Talks Phnom Penh Ties, Indo-Pacific Strategy
19 January 2019
“Bilateral defense ties have undergone drastic setbacks over the past few years amid Cambodia’s growing closer security ties with China and political tensions surrounding Cambodia’s general elections last year.”PHNOM PENH —
[Editor’s Note: U.S. Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Southeast Asia Joseph H. Felter visited Cambodia this week to discuss the restoration of military cooperation with Cambodia. Bilateral defense ties have undergone drastic setbacks over the past few years amid Cambodia’s growing closer security ties with China and political tensions surrounding Cambodia’s general elections last year. The senior Pentagon official sat down in Phnom Penh on Wednesday with VOA Khmer to discuss defense ties with Cambodia and the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at dealing with China’s growing influence in the region.]
VOA: Can you tell us about this trip of yours to Cambodia?
Felter: That was special because this is my first trip to Cambodia in this capacity as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia. It was also the first time we had a senior-level defense talk in quite some time in Cambodia – defense dialogue which took place on Tuesday hosted by Gen. Neang Phat [Ministry of Defense secretary of state].
VOA: Who did you meet on the Cambodian side and what issues did you discuss?
Felter: On Tuesday I met with Gen. Neang Phat. He was hosting with his senior members from his staff from the Ministry of Defense and the Cambodian military. Just today, we visited Ream Naval Base and met with Vice Admiral Ouk Seiha, commander of the base, and his staff.
VOA: Can you tell us what issues you raised with Cambodian officials?
Felter: Gen. Neang Phat is the secretary of state of the Ministry of National Defense. As part of the Defense Policy Dialogue, we discussed a range of issues like regional and international security, multilateral and bilateral cooperation. What I thought to be the most important part of our discussion on Tuesday with the Defense Policy Dialogue was mapping out a way forward to improve and enhance military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Cambodia to identify a way we can improve our defense ties and military cooperation.
VOA: We have seen many joint activities have been canceled due to the political situation in Cambodia. Have you brought this into discussions with Cambodian officials to find ways to restart them?
Felter: Yes, we have restarted on some levels. Encouragingly, Cambodia agreed to restart our POW/MIA [Prisoner of War/Missing in Action] cooperation and we find this very encouraging. Later this month we will have a joint on-field activity where we actually go out and do recovery operations of two missing pilots that we are searching for. So we find this very encouraging. Following this, we will be able to enhance our existing state partnership program. This is the partnership program with the Eisenhower National Guard that we will be sending many subject experts here to help the Cambodian military develop their peace-keeping skills. We know that Cambodia will participate in peace-keeping operations and missions around the world so we look forward to that. And there is a way forward beyond that. We will identify a number of activities that we can do to build on this military-to-military cooperation and enhance defense relationship. But to go down that path, we were clear in our discussion on Tuesday with Gen. Neang Phat that a number of things will have to happen on the Cambodian side that has to take initiative in areas of promoting national reconciliation, opening space for civil society and media. Some specific areas down that path include improving bilateral and multilateral exercises, restarting joint combined exchange training which we did in the past, the naval exercise CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training). Angkor Sentinel is another example.
VOA: Your call for release the of Kem Sokha, the opposition leader, is met with a negative response from Cambodian officials. What do you think about that?
Global clothing brands are pulling orders from Cambodian factories in anticipation the nation will soon lose tariff-free access to European markets
មុននេះបន្តិចក្នុងខែនេះ ទស្សនាវតីសំលៀកបំពាក់Apparel Insiderបោះពុម្ពផ្សាយថា ប្រទេសកម្ពុជានឹងត្រូវបាត់បង់ការបញ្ជាទិញដ៏ធំមហិមាពីព្រោះយឺហោរធំៗអន្តរជាតិបារម្មណ៍ថាកម្ពុជាអាចនឹងបាត់បង់ការអនុគ្រោះពន្ធពិសេសអ៊ីប៊ីអេ។
អត្ថបទបានសរសេរបា្រប់ដោយមិនបញ្ចេញឈ្មោះយីហោរណាមួយជាក់លាក់ថា”ប្រភពរបស់យើងប្រាប់អំពីយីហោរមួយចំនួនបានសម្រេចចិត្តរួចជាស្រេចដើម្បីដកខ្លួនចេញពីការបញ្ជាទិញពីប្រទេសដែលនឹងជួបវិបត្តិ”។ ក្រុមហ៊ុននាំមុខគេធំៗដូចជាអាម៉ានី ហ្កាប និង អេតនិងអិម ផ្គត់ផ្គង់សំលៀកបំពាក់ពីរោងចក្រដែលមានមូលដ្ឋាននៅប្រទេសកម្ពុជា។
Earlier this month, the industry publication Apparel Insider reported that Cambodia is set to lose “huge swathes” of orders because international brands are fearful that it could lose EBA privileges.
“Our sources suggest a number of brands have already decided to begin pulling orders from the beleaguered country,” the article stated without naming any particular brands. Leading global companies such Armani, Gap, and H&M source clothing from Cambodia-based factories.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday that a dissolved opposition party will be “dead” if the European Union (EU) moves ahead with plans to withdraw his country from a tariff-reducing trade arrangement.
The threat comes amid reports that international brands are pulling contracts from Cambodia’s crucial garment and footwear sectors in anticipation of the EU possibly ending the country’s tariff-free access to European markets.
Marking his 34th year as Cambodia’s prime minister earlier this week, an anniversary that makes him one of the world’s longest serving non-royal leaders, Hun Sen launched one of his strongest tirades yet against the EU.
“There is no need to embrace [you] because it’s too late, so let it be. If we were to step on the necks [of the opposition party], it would be just like this,” he said in a public speech, referring to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s only viable opposition party that was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017.
The CNRP was accused of conspiring with the United States to conduct a “color revolution,” despite almost no evidence provided to support the allegation. The EU has pressed for the party’s reinstatement and the release of its president Kem Sokha, who has been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in September 2017 on treason charges.
“If you want the opposition dead, just cut it,” Hun Sen added, referring to the EU’s threat to withdraw Cambodia from the “Everything But Arms (EBA)” preferential trade scheme in response to his political crackdown.
“If you want the opposition alive, don’t do it and come and hold talks together,” he added, in what amounted to a possibly lethal ultimatum to the EU.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has been in power since 1979, easily won a general election last July, at which it took all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Many Western nations considered the election illegitimate.
In principle, the EU wants Hun Sen’s government to engage in judicial and political reform, including allowances for the CNRP to return as a legal entity again. The CPP has constantly said the CNRP’s restitution is not on the table, though it has released jailed activists and conducted limited political reforms in recent months.
Some of the 177 CNRP politicians who were banned from politics in November 2017 were offered a reprieve after the government amended the constitution in December.
Those tentative reforms seemed to acknowledge the importance of maintaining access to EBA trade privileges. Cambodia exported roughly US$5.8 billion worth of goods to the EU in 2017 under the scheme.
The majority of those exports came from its vital garment and footwear sector, which accounts for almost 40% of Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2016, roughly 18% of all European imports under the EBA scheme came from Cambodia, with only Bangladesh selling more. The EU has not yet formally launched the withdrawal process, though it is thought to have begun informal procedures in that direction.
In October, the European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said that Cambodia had been notified of the EU’s position, adding that “without clear and evident [political] improvements on the ground, this will lead to the suspending of the trade preferences that they currently enjoy.”
Once the withdrawal process is started, it could take up to a year before the European Commission actually decides if tariffs will be placed on all Cambodian exports or just certain products. It is unlikely, unless the EU wants to be most punitive, that garment exports will be the first to face duties.
Op-Ed: Asia Time
By SAM RAINSYJANUARY 14, 2019 1:19 pm
The current government of Cambodia is illegitimate after the fake July 2018 election that led the country back to a one-party system as existed before the 1991 Paris Accords.
The illegitimacy of the election was decried by the United Nations, the European Union, the US, Japan and Australia. These institutions and countries refused to send observers to monitor a meaningless election organized after the arbitrary dissolution of the only credible opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and the arrest of its president Kem Sokha. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party “won” 100% of the parliamentary seats up for grabs.T
Hun Sen is a usurper whose illegitimate and repressive regime is facing international sanctions as announced by the EU and the US. Just like other tyrants facing international sanctions, Hun Sen is holding the Cambodian people hostage as a way to blackmail the international community into turning a blind eye to his totalitarian drift.
Hun Sen’s propaganda is aimed at buying time and trying to confuse the international community by pretending that the situation in Cambodia has returned to normal with the alleged disintegration of the CNRP.
Hun Sen’s propaganda is aimed at buying time and trying to confuse the international community by pretending that the situation in Cambodia has returned to normal with the alleged disintegration of the CNRP
Hun Sen claims that Kem Sokha has broken away from me and, as a result, most CNRP supporters have defected to the ruling CPP or decided to join another party. Therefore, according to Hun Sen, the CNRP has become irrelevant and there is no need for the international community to push for a reinstatement of this opposition party (which Hun Sen actually fears the most).
Hun Sen’s allegation about the CNRP disintegrating has proved wrong, as evidenced by the refusal of 90% of the 5,007 CNRP elected commune officials to defect to the ruling CPP in exchange for their keeping their positions, which otherwise would be confiscated from them.Read More …