Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

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Posted by: | Posted on: May 14, 2019



Op-Ed: War on the Rocks


Beijing’s geopolitical moves continue to obfuscate its larger designs, surprise observers, and render the United States and its allies reactive. The prospect of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia offers a case in point.

This issue — seemingly obscure and inconsequential to many observers — made the news in late 2018 when American Vice President Mike Pence raised it in a letter to Cambodia’s increasingly authoritarianleader, Hun Sen. Subsequently, Hun Sen dismissed media reports that China sought a naval base in Cambodia as “fake news.” In repeated denials, he proclaimed that Cambodia’s constitution prohibits any foreign country from setting up military bases within the country’s sovereign territory.

Recent satellite imagery depicting an airport runway in Cambodia’s remote Koh Kong province. Its length is similar to those built on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and it is long enough to support Chinese military reconnaissance, fighter, and bomber aircraft. Source: EO Browser.

Hun Sen promised with Vietnam’s leader not to allow foreign military base in Cambodia soil

And yet, questions remain. Recent commercial satellite imagery shows that Union Development Group, a Chinese-owned construction firm, has been rushing to complete a runway in Cambodia’s remote Koh Kong province on the southwestern coast. It appears long enough to support military aircraft and matches the length of the runways built on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to support military reconnaissance, fighter and bomber aircraft. Moreover, given the amount of political and economic support Hun Sen has received from Beijing, his independence seems increasingly doubtful.

However, these accusations and denials prevent a meaningful discussion of what the establishment of such a base would mean and what an appropriate response to such an eventuality would look like. They also obscure the question of why Beijing would seek to build a military base in Cambodia.

For Beijing, the strategic dividends of acquiring a military base in southeast Asia are numerous: a more favorable operational environment in the waters ringing southeast Asia, a military perimeter ringing and potentially enclosing mainland southeast Asia, and potentially easier and less restricted access to the Indian Ocean. These benefits are not all of equal value to Chinese strategists, nor does China need any of them immediately. But the logic of Chinese expansion suggests that sooner or later, Beijing will need such a military outpost in southeast Asia, and Hun Sen’s Cambodia presents especially fertile geographic and political soil.

While Hun Sen currently denies that he would allow the rotational presence of the Chinese military or a more permanent Chinese military base on Cambodian territory, strategy often deals in the realm of the possible. Proactively dealing with this challenge requires understanding the Chinese template for developing military bases, thinking through the strategic effects of such a base in Cambodia, and developing options to forestall such a development.

The Chinese Template

Forming a picture of what a Chinese military outpost in Cambodia could look like and how quickly one could become operational is not an act of wild speculation. Chinese efforts elsewhere provide evidence of a simple template. In the South China Sea, in Djibouti, and in other locations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Beijing has followed a similar pattern in which denial precedes further action and helps to veil the full extent of Beijing’s aims.

The Chinese template for construction of new military basing was on full display in the South China Sea, where Beijing pursued the quick buildup and rapid militarization of facilities in the Spratly Islands. Chinese officials denied that plans existed for base construction even as Chinese fisherman and private construction companies began to undertake such efforts. Once base construction was underway, Chinese officials claimed such actions were undertaken for humanitarian purposes and continually promised they would not militarize the South China Sea. Once militarization of these facilities was complete, Beijing again shifted its explanations, noting that the military bases were purely defensive in nature. Finally, the Chinese military began building hangars and infrastructure required to deploy fighter jets and other military aircraft to these islands, just as they installed anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and military jamming equipment.

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Posted by: | Posted on: May 14, 2019

Champagne With Dictators

Champagne With Dictators

Posted Mon 30 Jul 2018, 9:49pmUpdated Fri 3 Aug 2018, 12:15pm

Op-Ed: Four Corners

Australia accused of failing to stand up for democracy as Cambodia descends into dictatorship.

“You don’t drink champagne with the dictators.” Opposition Leader

For more than three decades Cambodia has been ruled by one man, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who came to power in the country’s first democratic elections after the horror years of the Khmer Rouge.

Australia played a key role in the peace deal that ended the bloody civil war, but the once bright hopes for democracy have long since faded.

“We were tremendously successful in bringing peace to Cambodia, but we weren’t at all successful in bringing democracy and human rights.” Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans

Ahead of this weekend’s elections, the Hun Sen regime launched a ruthless crackdown on the political opposition and free press. On Monday, in her first story for Four Corners, reporter Sophie McNeill travels to Cambodia to confront the man whose political opponents have been imprisoned and assassinated in mysterious circumstances.

Sophie McNeil: The world says this is not a democracy…

Hun Sen: No, no, no. No this is not (right).

While steadily cementing their grip on power, Hun Sen and his family and cronies are accused of amassing enormous wealth through a corrupt and nepotistic system.

“There’s nothing that happens there that they don’t control, and that is corruption in its most egregious form. That’s what it’s like in Cambodia. It is a Mafia state.” Patrick Alley, Director Global Witness

Four Corners has uncovered evidence of how the regime’s wealth has been used to buy properties and businesses in Australia, where some of Hun Sen’s relatives have established a base for building support, sometimes through threats and intimidation.

“They allow this foreign government to intimidate our people, Australian citizens, and those who come here to study. This is not right.” Hong Lim, Victorian MP

Since 2014, Australia has granted the regime $40 million in additional aid, in return for taking some of Australia’s unwanted refugees, and the Turnbull Government upgraded ties with Cambodia last year. While the US has begun moves to sanction the regime by freezing assets and blocking visas, international observers accuse the Australian Government of cosying up to Hun Sen.

“I would like to see Australia take a strong stance, (to) come out openly and condemn the Hun Sen regime. They’re not doing that.” US Congressman

While hopes for democracy have disintegrated, China has moved to dramatically expand its presence and power in the country.

“Cambodia has the coast, Cambodia has minerals, Cambodia has forest, Cambodia has a dictator. You can buy it all.” Opposition Leader

As Hun Sen prepares to tighten his grip on power after this weekend’s elections, Cambodia’s democracy campaigners say they feel abandoned.

“Cambodia look up at the people of Australia. We envy you. You live in a world of democracy, but your Government is disappointing. Very disappointing.” Opposition Leader

Champagne with Dictators, reported by Sophie McNeill and presented by Sarah Ferguson, goes to air on Monday 30th July at 8.30 pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 31st July at 1.00pm and Wednesday 2nd August at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on the ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, on ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.