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FCambodia’s Disastrous Dependence on China: A History Lesson
Op-Ed: The Diplomate
Overdependence on China undermines Cambodia’s national security. We know because it’s happened before.By Chansambath BongDecember 04, 2019
In May 1965, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia terminated diplomatic relations with the United States. In so doing, he altered his strict adherence of neutrality in foreign policy to align with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Sihanouk was in part acting in response to a derogatory article by Bernard Krisher for Newsweek that accused his mother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak, of running a bordello, along with an air raid by an American plane on a village in Kampong Cham province, which killed one teenage boy and injured a few others. Although these events may be viewed as the last straws that pushed Cambodia-U.S. ties to the breaking point, other factors — such as Pathet Lao’s victory at the Plain of Jarres in 1961, the downfall of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, and America’s alleged sabotaging efforts against his conference proposal — all played parts in the debacle.
Sihanouk’s decision to opt for close alignment with China had a number of implications for Cambodia’s national security. Internally, suspension of American aid in 1963 stirred contention among the rank and file of the Cambodian armed forces close to General Lon Nol and the commercial elites, both of whom had fed on U.S. largess and economic benefits since 1955.
Moreover, the halt pushed Cambodia’s aid-dependent economy into a tailspin. The nationalization of banking and trade industries created opportunities for corrupt officials to benefit from illegal rice sales at the expense of the general public, who were bearing the brunt of economic hardship.
Externally, alignment with China created both short- and long-term impacts on Cambodia’s foreign policy. For one thing, Cambodia’s alignment with China allowed Beijing to take advantage of Sihanouk’s unbalanced foreign policy. Chinese officials pressured the prince to allow Viet Cong supply lines to run through Kompong Som port up to the Ho Chi Minh trail. That turned out to be an unofficial invitation for American B-52 Stratofortress bomber runs, and Cambodia is still feeling the effects of this today.
In the short term, Sihanouk’s choice also pushed Cambodia into deeper diplomatic isolation with no friend to rely on as the decision to break off ties with the United States in 1965 came just as that the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution was about to sweep across China. Once the Red Guards occupied the PRC’s foreign affairs ministry in mid-1966, China’s foreign policy radically shifted from Pancha Shila or the five principles of peaceful co-existence to exporting revolution abroad. Prince Sihanouk became increasingly suspicious of China’s intentions after rumors that Beijing was secretly exporting its revolutionary ideas through the Cambodian-Chinese Friendship Association spread across the country.
The last straw came when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who was a target of the Red Guards at this point, openly asked Cambodia to allow the ethnic Chinese community to pledge their allegiance to Communism and Chairman Mao, a move that broke with Beijing’s long-held tradition of Pancha Shila. These developments greatly unnerved Sihanouk, who had previously expected that China would stand behind him through thick and thin without trying to impose its ideology on Cambodia.
The rapid radicalization of Chinese foreign policy made the monarch feel like he had painted himself into a corner. He had alienated the American the previous year and now it looked like the Chinese were about to flip on him as well. It would be nothing short of diplomatic suicide for Cambodia if Beijing reneged.ADVERTISEMENT
Although Sino-Cambodian relations gradually went back to normalcy in 1968, Chinese officials appeared to cross the line when, according to one account, Kang Sheng, who was a member of the Gang of Four, visited Khmer Rouge’s liberated region in 1968. This could suggest that part of the Chinese government had begun working with the Khmer Communists behind Sihanouk’s back before the 1970 coup. It’s not surprising, then, that Beijing threw its full weight behind the Khmer Rouge when it took over Kampuchea in April 1975.Read More …
CAMBODIACHINESE SEPTEMBER 1, 2019
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 29, 2019. Photo: AFP/Madoka Ikegami/Pool
Buying Cambodia: China’s long embrace of a tyrant
Authoritarian PM Hun Sen has reportedly given Beijing the green light for a naval base on the Gulf of Thailand
It is always sound policy for observers of international politics to greet reports from intelligence agencies with a raised eyebrow and caustic smile.
All intelligence agencies have their own agendas, and they are by definition staffed by people inclined towards conspiracy theories and disaster scenarios.
It is only when leaked intelligence material fits into a pattern of proven truths, and when a government allows a named official to publicly support the intelligence allegation that it is worth taking the story half seriously.
For these reasons, the claim that China will build its own military facility at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province on the Gulf of Thailand deserves re-examination.
The story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 21 and was immediately denied with a suspicious amount of bluster by both the Chinese government and Cambodia’s leader of 34 years, Hun Sen.
Hun Sen dismissed the story, saying Cambodia’s constitution forbids the country from hosting foreign military bases. But as he has driven a bulldozer through every major aspect of the Cambodian constitution to keep himself in power for decades, and made the country little more than Beijing’s vassal state, invoking the constitution is not a convincing argument.
For Beijing, acquiring a naval base at the heart of Southeast Asia would be a significant security and force-projection multiplier when coupled with the seven military bases it has built on islands constructed on shoals in the South China Sea. It would also be one more gem in Beijing’s so-called “string of pearls” strategy, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan and a full-blown military base in Djibouti.
Washington and other western administrations have been watching with suspicion and concern Beijing’s 20-year charm offensive aimed at Hun Sen. This has led to both the Cambodian economy and Cambodian foreign policy being dominated by Beijing’s interests.Read More …
China’s Cambodian Invasion
Aug 2, 2019 SAM RAINSY
Op-Ed: Project Syndicates
China’s dangerous military expansionism depends on compliant local regimes and inaction on the part of the international community. In the case of Cambodia, which has reportedly given China rights to a naval base, the international community should demand a new general election that does not exclude real challengers.
PARIS – It has long been feared that Cambodia’s growing dependence on China – its largest aid donor, investor, and creditor – would lead to a Chinese military presence in the country. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, those fears are now coming true.
Like a gambler reliant on a loan shark, Cambodia has, in recent years, racked up massive, opaque debts to China, which it cannot repay. This has given China considerable leverage, enabling it, for example, to evadeUS President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs, by re-routing exports to the United States through Cambodia’s Chinese-owned Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone.
Judging by China’s history of “debt-trap diplomacy,” it was only a matter of time before it used its leverage over Cambodia to strengthen its regional military posture. According to the Wall Street Journal, the time came this spring, when China and Cambodia secretly signed an agreement giving China exclusive rights to a part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand.
Both the Chinese and Cambodian governments deny the report, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called “made up” and “baseless.” But that should be no surprise: as Hun Sen noted, hosting foreign military bases is illegal in Cambodia, according to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that ended its long civil war. Furthermore, as the US Department of State has pointed out, Cambodia has a constitutional commitment to its people to maintain a neutral foreign policy.Read More …
Tokyo is fighting a losing battle for Hun Sen’s support, and selling its own legacy in the democratization of Cambodia short. Published in The Diplomat
Brad Adams, Asia Director, Teppei Kasai Program Officer, Asia Division
In a dimly lit ballroom at a Tokyo luxury hotel, Sok Chenda Sophea, the secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia and the minister attached to Prime Minister Hun Sen, persistently asked about 200 Japanese businesspeople to invest in Cambodia.
“Cambodia is not mini-China, come [visit],” Sophea said at the Cambodian Investment Forum on March 5. Sophea’s 30-minute speech mentioned everything from special economic zones to Japanese Overseas Development Assistance.
But Cambodia’s major crackdown on dissent and its ban on the main opposition party before last year’s election were not on his agenda. When questioned by Human Rights Watch about whether the Cambodian government has concrete strategies to ensure rights protections for the Cambodian people amid a growing number of foreign investments and development projects, Sophea dodged the question.
“I’m sorry to say, but we’re in a business seminar,” Sophea said, apparently not concerned that illegal land confiscation for business projects and the abuse of workers are among the country’s biggest rights problems.
Japan has been important to Cambodia, for decades its largest aid donor and one of its largest foreign investors. Now, with China surpassing Japan in both areas, the Japanese government appears willing to throw its principles out the window to compete with China for Hun Sen’s affections.
Given Hun Sen’s dictatorial and violent record, this is a contest that Japan can’t – and shouldn’t want to — win.
Despite Sophea’s denials, in recent years, Hun Sen, who has held power for 34 years, and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been inseparable. They kicked off 2019 by striking a deal involving what Hun Sen described as a Chinese grant of nearly $600 million and a pledge to import 400,000 tons of Cambodian rice. The two agreed on a target of $10 billion in bilateral trade by 2023.
The deal was topped off by smaller investments and loans, including an agreement from China to provide a bodyguard compound for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers. This is very worrisome, given that Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit has long been responsible for bloody attacks on the prime minister’s critics, including an infamous 1997 grenade attack on a political demonstration by the then-leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy.
For Xi Jinping and Hun Sen, it was business as usual. Since the 1998 demise of the Khmer Rouge, which China helped propel to power, leading to the deaths of as many as 2 million Cambodians, China has poured billions of dollars into Cambodia in loans, aid, and investments. By 2010, China became Cambodia’s largest foreign donor, though much of its aid is in loans that Cambodia may never be able to repay. In 2018, China accounted for nearly half of Cambodia’s $6 billion foreign debt.
Presiding over a one-party state at home, the Chinese government doesn’t have to consider public opinion when supporting dictatorships or account for the expenditure of its funds. It can bribe officials with impunity. Things are different in Japan.
This has left Japan in a bind. Despite the worsening climate for human rights in Cambodia, Japan still shies away from open and clear criticism, while continuing to provide large amounts of aid and staging high-level visits, all to charm the deeply unpopular Hun Sen.
But Japan is fighting a losing battle for Hun Sen’s support. Japan can’t outspend China or deliver sweetheart contracts to Cambodia, yet its overt and clumsy attempts to ingratiate itself have led to a backlash among Cambodian activists, who see Tokyo selling out democracy and human rights to maintain a friendship with a dictator. Activists see this “values free” Japanese diplomacy contributing to the seemingly irreversible decline of democratic values in Cambodia.
That became increasingly apparent in the lead-up to the July 2018 Cambodian national elections. Fearing defeat, the government dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), kicked out its members of parliament, and imposed a five-year political ban on 118 of its senior members. Hun Sen also cracked down on independent media outlets, journalists, and independent organizations promoting the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.Read More …
Cambodia, China to Kick Off Annual Joint Military Exercise Amid Waning Western Influence
Op-Ed: Radio Free Asia Khmer
Cambodia’s Defence Minister Tea Banh (L) speaks to China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe (2nd L) during a visit to a military exhibition in Phnom Penh, June 19, 2018.AFP
Cambodia and China will kick off preparations for their third annual joint “Golden Dragon” military exercise on Feb. 28, Cambodia’s National Defense Ministry announced Wednesday, highlighting improved ties between the two countries as Western influence in the Southeast Asian nation wanes.
In a post to his Facebook account, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Chhum Socheat said that more than 250 Chinese and 2,500 Cambodian military personnel will attend the drill, held at the Chum Kiri Military Shooting Range Training Field in Kampot province’s Chum Kiri district.
After two weeks of rehearsals, the 15-day exercise will begin with a March 13 opening ceremony attended by Royal Cambodian Armed (RCAF) Commander-in-chief General Vong Pisen and end with a March 27 closing ceremony overseen by Defense Minister General Tea Banh, the post said.
“This military exercise reflects the government’s stance that the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces implement the national defense policy between Cambodia and China and for cooperation in all sectors,” Chhum Socheat said.
“This drill will also focus on exchanging experience in humanitarian and natural disaster rescue operations, as well as combatting terrorism and peacekeeping.”
According to Chhum Socheat, the exercise will involve “important military equipment” including armored trucks, tanks, and helicopters, as well as artillery and mortars.
This year’s Golden Dragon exercise is the third and largest joint Cambodia-China military drills to be held on Cambodian soil since Cambodia’s Defense Ministry abruptly suspended annual “Angkor Sentinel” joint exercises with the U.S. military and abandoned counter-terrorism training exercises with the Australian military in 2017.
The government had claimed it was too busy preparing security for commune elections in June last year to take part in the exercises, but they have yet to be reestablished.
US, China Face Off Over Legacy in Cambodia
“China supported the Khmer Rouge during the 1970-1975 war and was the sole critical supporter throughout the 1975-1979 Democratic Kampuchea period of genocide. With Chinese money and support, Pol Pot carried out the period of murder, starvation and brutality.” – Said Elizabeth Becker
ចិនគាំទ្រខ្មែរក្រហមក្នុងកំឡុងសង្គ្រាមឆ្នាំ១៩៧០-១៩៧៥ ហើយជាអ្នកគាំទ្រសំខាន់តែមួយគត់ក្នុងរវាងឆ្នាំ១៩៧៥-១៩៧៩នៃរបបប្រលៃពូជសាសន៌កម្ពុជាប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ ជាមួយថវិការនិងការគាំទ្ររបស់ចិន ប៉ុល-ពតប្រតិបត្តិការវាលពិឃាត ទុរភិកអត់ឃ្លាន និងឃោរឃៅព្រៃផ្សៃ។ – ដោយអេលីសាបុិត បែកខើរ
Op-Ed: VOA Khmer
February 09, 2019 10:40 PM
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA —
Sihanouk took refuge in Beijing until 1975, when brutal Khmer Rouge guerrillas leading a resistance movement against Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic captured Phnom Penh on April 17 and took over the country.
Sihanouk initially supported the Khmer Rouge regime and was installed as head of state by the communists but resigned in 1976. He spent the rest of the regime as a de facto prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, which wreaked havoc on the country, killing or starving to death an estimated 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.
Echoes of the Cold War
Today, that sequence of events reverberates in a diplomatic face-off in Phnom Penh that echoes the Cold War even as it has gone viral in Cambodia. The online skirmish began when the U.S. Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Jan. 30, saying the Khmer Rouge “ignorantly depended on a superpower,” an apparent reference to China. The embassy later issued comments claiming Washington was not involved in the coup led by Lon Nol that ousted Sihanouk.
“Instead, there is a lot of evidence showing that [the] Chinese government actively supported [the] Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 and after that,” read a post by the U.S. Embassy.
In response, the Chinese Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Feb. 1, mocking the idea that the coup “was not related to the U.S., but the CIA.”
Elizabeth Becker, author of When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, said the current tit-for-tat was “a distorted argument started by the Hun Sen government.”
“The subject is too serious for these propaganda potshots,” she wrote VOA Khmer in an email. “Both China and the U.S. have blood on their hands.”
War of words
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), an independent think tank based in Phnom Penh, said the current war of words is another indication that the U.S.-China competition in Cambodia will continue to intensify.
“I think Cambodia has become the proxy of U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry,” he said in an email. “The winner writes history. It is … real politics.”
Meas Nee, a political analyst who holds a doctorate in sociology and international social work from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, said Cambodia should be cautious of falling into a trap if a new Cold War emerges.
“Those two superpowers can take advantage” of a vulnerable country like Cambodia, he said, adding that Phnom Penh’s closeness with Beijing makes it unlikely to take a stand. China is Cambodia’s largest aid donor.
Although many consider the U.S. involvement to be a matter of historical record, Emily Zeeberg, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, told VOA Khmer that there was “no evidence that the United States was involved in the coup that brought Lon Nol to power.”
“The United States has addressed its war legacy by long-standing and substantial efforts for humanitarian demining and removing unexploded ordnance (UXO), including the removal of hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made mines, which have injured and killed people for decades,” she said in an email.
“We hope the Chinese government will acknowledge its legacy in Cambodia and make amends to all the Cambodians its policies affected,” Zeeberg added.
Repeated efforts to reach the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia were unsuccessful.
Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Cambodia’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement issued last week that Cambodia had suffered from a civil war that arose from “a coup supported by United States in 1970.”
“Cambodia doesn’t want to see the same history, as Cambodia has full peace,” it read.
‘Supporting the Khmer Rouge’
Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College at Los Angeles, said: “It looks like the U.S. Embassy simply reminded Cambodia of who was supporting the Khmer Rouge at their height of power-1975-1979.”
“Indeed, with the withdrawal of the U.S., the Khmer Republic collapsed,” he added.Read More …
China-Cambodia Military Fears in the Headlines with New US Intelligence Report
A closer look at recent headlines about Beijing’s growing military presence in the Southeast Asian state and their wider significance.
Op-Ed: The Diplomat
By Prashanth Parameswara February 05, 2019
Last week, the suggestion that Cambodia could move towards changing its constitution to facilitate growing Chinese military presence in the country led to another series of headlines about Beijing’s rising influence in the Southeast Asian state. While such worries are far from new, their continued articulation by U.S. officials reinforces the extent of the concern around such developments as well as the wider trends that they represent within the Indo-Pacific.
As I have noted previously in these pages, while the idea of a deepening Chinese military presence in Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Sen is far from new, there has been increased attention to this as both sides have been stepping up their defense ties and amid wider concerns including rising Chinese economic and security presence in Southeast Asia and setbacks to democracy in the region.
A case in point was late last year where we saw the latest round of public scrutiny on the notion of a Chinese naval base in Cambodia tied to a controversial, ongoing port project, with U.S. officials directly raising the issue with Cambodia. As I noted in an evaluation of these concerns, even though specifics may remain unclear for now in the public domain, these fears are not entirely unfounded given some of the developments we have already seen in recent years.
Last week, the fears of China’s growing military presence surfaced again following the release of this year’s iteration of the Worldwide Treat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a collective report produced by 17 separate U.S. agencies. Several media outlets picked up on the fact that in his statement for the record for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence dated January 29, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had mentioned that Cambodia’s slide toward autocracy “opens the way for a constitutional amendment that could lead to a Chinese military presence in the country.”
This then led to several headlines in Cambodia and internationally about those comments. Unsurprisingly, the Cambodian government reacted rather defensively as well, with the defense ministry rejecting the need for it to amend its constitution and even welcoming the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to seek the truth behind these issues.Read More …
In his facebook page, Hun Sen has appeared fragile walking and standing to greet China’s private sectors and official top leaders in Peking during his 4 days urgent visit (January 20-24, 2019) after EU announced to tax Cambodia rice export in 3 years beginning this January 2019 in which Cambodia enjoyed its free tax previous years. Cambodia could loss 40 millions dollar per year from this taxing. While Hun Sen is departing for China, the regular Cabinet meetings was cancelled with order to send only security documents to his office while Phnom Penh city was seen by tanks, military armours, and his personal body guard unit mobilizing in an excuse to prepare a drill. Spectators convinced that by ranking and bureaucratic regulation, whenever Hun Sen is absent, the next person is Sar Kheng who is able to conduct regular business of the governance but the Cabinet’s order is totally opposite.
Frequent updating in his personal facebook page with “likes” hike up over 10 millions is to describe his successes in 600 millions loan and buying rice 40,000 tones, Chinese FDI investments, and increasing importing products from Cambodia etc., while the mainstream China’s news, contradictory, confirming the Xi’s intention to strengthening Cambodia’s consent to broaden Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and shared future strategic partnership. Note that Cambodia delegates have failed to inspire China to import rice from Cambodia as China has already promised to import Thailand’s trillion tones of rice to feed its people.
In Cambodia, 40 private sectors wrote letter to EU to express their concerns on the economic crisis if EU withdraws EBA from Cambodia. And the ASIA-EU Ministerial Meeting delegated by Cambodia foreign minister Prak Sokhonn met negative responses from both Didier Reynders and Cecilia Malstrom by emphasizing restoring back democracy, rule of law, and human rights respect in Cambodia if EBA’s withdrawal scheme should be halted.
Cambodia Faces Next Trade-Sanctions Move by the European Union
By Jonathan Stearns January 22, 2019, 8:59 AM PST Updated on January 22, 2019, 3:00 PM PST
- EU Commission seeks support from national capitals by Jan. 29
- Any decision to suspend tariff benefits still a year away
The European Union moved closer to imposing trade sanctions against Cambodia as a result of alleged human-rights violations in the country.
The European Commission in Brussels has asked EU national governments to give the green light by Jan. 29 for suspending a policy that lets Cambodia export all goods except weapons duty-free and quota-free to the bloc, according to two officials familiar with the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private.
Any go-ahead from EU national capitals would still leave a decision by the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, 12 months away. At stake is Cambodia’s place in the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative, the most generous part of the bloc’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences for poor countries around the world.
The EU is trying to prod changes in the political behavior of strongman Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen while being wary of damaging the country’s economy, where a $5 billion garment industry employs 750,000 people and is the biggest exporter.
Hun Sen, who extended his 33-year rule last July when his party won a boycotted election, has so far struck a defiant tone with the European side.
The latest internal EU preparations to withdraw commercial benefits for Cambodia follow a Jan. 21 meeting between European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. The Everything But Arms — or EBA — accord featured in the talks.
“We discussed the EBA agreement and the possibility of a withdrawal of the tariff preferences,” Malmstrom said in a Twitter post after the meeting in the Belgian capital. “Reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and rule of law. The EU continues to keep the path of dialog open.”
The EU debate over revoking general trade benefits for Cambodia is separate from a decision by the bloc last week to impose tariffs on Cambodian rice for three years as a result of a surge in imports deemed to have hurt European rice producers.
— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras
Greater Sino-Cambodian effort sought for Belt, Road
Op-Ed: China Daily
By AN BAIJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-22 01:28
China and Cambodia should speed up connecting the Belt and Road Initiative with Cambodia’s development strategy, President Xi Jinping said on Monday.Read More …
China’s growing dominance is met with equally growing concern in Cambodia. Despite the economic gains, too much dependence on China comes with significant commitment and risk. Reliance on China’s aid may induce Cambodia to fall into a debt trap, resulting in a loss of autonomy as a sovereign state and the deterioration of its relations with other ASEAN member states.
The lack of transparency and accountability of China’s projects is also causing social and environmental challenges in Cambodia. Criticism that Chinese companies are racing to exploit Cambodia’s resources while paying little regard to international best development practices are common among civil society actors.
The Kamchay dam, the first large-scale Chinese investment project in Cambodia, is a telling example. The dam destroyed 2000 hectares of productive forest, threatened animal species, lowered water quality and negatively affected the livelihood of local communities.
Chinese firm Union Development was awarded a concession of nearly 40,000 hectares — almost four times the amount allowed under Cambodian law — to develop a multi-billion dollar tourism hub in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province. Human rights groups allege that fishermen who had lived in the area for generations were summarily evicted, taken inland and told that they were now farmers.
Chinese investment in Cambodia’s real estate market is almost exclusively aimed at the Cambodian upper class, as well as Chinese tourists and businessmen. This is driving market prices up, making housing unaffordable for most Cambodians.
Chinese investment is also transforming Sihanoukville, once Cambodia’s premier seaside resort, into a bustling casino town. The unprecedented surge in Chinese tourists and casino development in Sihanoukville is benefitting a small group Cambodia’s rich elite, but many other Cambodians are being driven out of the area by the skyrocketing cost of living.
Even though Chinese investment is bringing wealth to Cambodia, this wealth is mainly kept within Cambodia’s Chinese community. Chinese residents and visitors in Cambodia buy from Chinese businesses, eat in Chinese restaurants and stay in Chinese hotels. The trickle-down effect to local businesses is minimal.
China’s economic power and influence can be a source for sustainable development in Cambodia, but for this to happen requires strong leadership from both countries. Both sides must make concerted efforts to promote transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in development projects.
Shared responsibility and multi-stakeholder partnership should be the guiding principles of foreign investment in Cambodia to ensure that Chinese investment and aid contributes to Cambodia’s economic, social and environmental progress in the long run.
Read the entire article at AsiaForum
Op-Ed: The Diplomat
A lot has changed in 40 years — but not everything.
Like Pol Pot before him, Hun Sen has now pinned his political longevity on China, which again looks out at a visage of hostile powers across Asia as it seeks to rise to the status of the regional hegemon, and celebrates having a strong ally in Phnom Penh.
The Soviet threat is gone, but Hun Sen’s cantankerous political attacks on all things American in Cambodia, which has tied him to the Chinese for support, might be viewed in much the same way as Pol Pot’s attacks on Vietnam: it’s me, or a pawn of China’s great power rival du jour.
Though Hun Sen never specified the precise hue of the “color revolution” brewing against him by Cambodia’ popular opposition party as he dismantled the country’s 25-year-old UN-built democracy late last year, his targets both in the opposition and in fragile civil society had a distinct American accent.
The 24-year-old U.S.-owned English-language newspaper-of-record, The Cambodia Daily, was forced to close — but not the Australian-owned Phnom Penh Post. Gone too were radio programs from the U.S.-run Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — along with two of their reporters, who were imprisoned for “espionage” — but not those of Radio France International.
Gone, even, was U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute — even as Germany’s Konrad Adanaeur Institute, which had been actively working with the opposition to develop policies, was left untouched. The message to China would have been clear.
Hun Sen is only the latest in a long line of Cambodian leaders to bank his leadership’s long-term survival and his legacy on the rise of China as the regional power.
Pol Pot, too, was not the first.
King Norodom Sihanouk, the father of Cambodia’s 1953 independence, also moved sharply toward China’s influence late in his rule. He went as far as to sever diplomatic ties with the U.S. in 1965, believing that the future in Asia was with China.
Pol Pot and King Sihanouk were notably both thwarted by competing interests from within their regimes — a pro-U.S. faction represented by the coup leader Lon Nol for Sihanouk in March 1970, and a pro-Vietnamese faction, with Hun Sen among the leaders, in the case of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in January 1979.
Hun Sen may well yet prove to have bested both for timing in the China gambit. Yet as a self-proclaimed life-long student of history and geopolitics, he would be forgiven for looking around his party with apprehension.
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—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.
Cambodia’s Strategic China Alignment
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.
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.
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.