China’s New Naval Base: Cambodia

China’s New Naval Base: Cambodia

by Debalina Ghoshal
August 12, 2019 at 4:00 am

  • “[Scepticism] has grown louder recently, with the release of satellite images from the European Space Agency showing that the runway for the site’s airport is far longer than is required for civilian aircraft” — Andrew Nachemson, Cambodia-based journalist, South China Morning Post, March 5, 2019.
  • “Over the past two years [Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen] has accepted more than $600m (£480m) in loans as part of China’s controversial Belt and Road initiative.” — Hannah Ellis-Petersen, South-east Asia correspondent, The Guardian, July 22, 2019.
  • “It appears that there are massive strings attached to these loans. If Cambodia had said no, do you think China would continue its massive investment in Cambodia?” — Sophal Ear, Cambodian political scientist, to The Guardian, July 22, 2019.
  • Without a change of government in Phnom Penh, brought about by an election that truly reflects public sentiment, China could be given virtually free rein in Cambodia to further its political and military designs on Asia.
A recent Wall Street Journal report claims that China has signed a secret deal with Cambodia that gives the Chinese military access to Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base. Washington has expressed worry over Cambodia’s move away from democracy and American influence, and its descent into autocratic rule and towards China’s orbit. Pictured: U.S. Marines and Royal Cambodian Navy sailors participate in the multinational “CARAT Cambodia 2016” exercise near Ream Naval Base, November 2, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Petty Officer Lowell Whitman)

China’s efforts to establish regional hegemony were highlighted recently by a Wall Street Journal report claiming that Beijing signed a secret deal in the spring with Phnom Penh, giving the Chinese armed forces access to Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, “not far from a large airport now being constructed by a Chinese company.”

Although the report was vehemently denied by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who called it “the worst-ever made up news against Cambodia,” Washington has cause to take it seriously. The United States is aware of China’s attempts to strengthen its strategic foothold in Southeast Asia in general and the South China Sea in particular. Washington also has expressed worry over Cambodia’s move away from democracy and American influence, on the one hand, and its descent into autocratic rule and towards China’s orbit on the other.

In spite of Article 1 of its Constitution, which states that “the Kingdom of Cambodia shall be independent, sovereign, peaceful, permanently neutral and non-aligned country,” in January, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats— who just resigned his post — assessed that “Cambodia’s slide toward autocracy… opens the way for a constitutional amendment that could lead to a Chinese military presence in the country.”

Meanwhile, both Beijing and Phnom Penh claim that all investment by the Chinese-owned Union Development Group in the Koh Kong province and along the Cambodian coastline — such as an international airport, luxury tourist resorts, casinos and golf courses, among others — are part of a major project for civilian use alone. However, as Cambodia-based journalist Andrew Nachemson reportedin March:

“… scepticism has grown louder recently, with the release of satellite images from the European Space Agency showing that the runway for the site’s airport is far longer than is required for civilian aircraft…

“The satellite images suggest there was a flurry of construction on the runway after US Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in November, expressing concern that the project had a military use.”

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, the U.S. State Department released a statement reminding Cambodia that it had a “constitutional commitment to its people to pursue an independent foreign policy,” and warning that:

“We are concerned that any steps by the Cambodian government to invite a foreign military presence in Cambodia would threaten the coherence and centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in coordinating regional developments, and disturb peace and stability in Southeast Asia.”

As The Guardian reported in July:

“Over the past two years [Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen] has accepted more than $600m (£480m) in loans as part of China’s controversial Belt and Road initiative. China has also committed almost $2bn to build roads and bridges across Cambodia, with further infrastructure and multimillion-dollar business deals in the works, and given another $150m in aid.”

Sophal Ear, a “prominent Cambodian political scientist,” told The Guardian:

“It appears that there are massive strings attached to these loans. If Cambodia had said no, do you think China would continue its massive investment in Cambodia?”

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Chinese project in Cambodia raises alarms of military build-up

Chinese project in Cambodia raises alarms of military build-up

Op-ed: Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 12 2019 10:27 PM

While Cambodia welcomes an ongoing influx of Chinese tourists, investment and development, the world at large increasingly suspects that China is launching a military buildup in the country for stronger Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.

Dara Sakor, a new China-backed coastal resort in Koh Kong province, located some 400 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh by road, covers almost 20 percent of the country’s coastline.

Having obtained a 99-year land lease from the Cambodian government, the Chinese developer was allowed to develop on 36,000 hectares of land in the province, raising questions about China’s intentions in Cambodia.

Washington has repeatedly shared its concerns about the matter with Cambodia’s leadership.

In November last year, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen raising the issue of China’s presence and the land concession in Koh Kong awarded to Union Group.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Felter as well as U.S. Congressman Steve Chabot also expressed concerns about the Chinese presence in Cambodia.

But both the Cambodian government and the Chinese company denied the allegations and claim there is no hidden agenda behind the massive project.

Wang Chao, vice president of Union Group, said the $3.8 billion project is part of the “One Belt and One Road Initiative” of Chinese President Xi Jinping and purely for commercial and tourism purposes.

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H.R.526 bill was passed by the Congress and sent to the Senate immediately

Shown Here:
Referred in Senate (07/16/2019)

116th CONGRESS
1st Session

H. R. 526


IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATESJuly 16, 2019

Received; read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations


AN ACT

To promote free and fair elections, political freedoms, and human rights in Cambodia, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019”.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress finds the following:

(1) Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power in Cambodia since 1985 and is the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia. Despite decades of international attention and assistance to promote a pluralistic, multi-party democratic system in Cambodia, the Government of Cambodia continues to be undemocratically dominated by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), which controls every agency and security apparatus of the state.

(2) In 2015, the CPP-controlled parliament passed the “Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations”, which gave the government sweeping powers to revoke the registration of NGOs that the government believed to be operating with a political bias in a blatant attempt to restrict the legitimate work of civil society. On August 23, 2017, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the closure of the National Democratic Institute and the expulsion of its foreign staff. On September 15, 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the withdrawal of all volunteers from the United States Peace Corps, which has operated in Cambodia since 2006 with 500 United States volunteers providing English language and healthcare training.

(3) The Government of Cambodia has taken several measures to restrict its media environment, especially through politicized tax investigations against independent media outlets that resulted in the closure of The Cambodian Daily and Radio Free Asia in early September 2017. Additionally, the Government of Cambodia has ordered several radio stations to stop the broadcasting of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming.

(4) On September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha, the President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on politically motivated charges, including treason and conspiring to overthrow the Government of Cambodia, and faces up to 30 years in prison. The CNRP’s previous leader, Sam Rainsy, remains in exile. On November 16, 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, eliminating the primary opposition party.

(5) Each of the six elections that have taken place in Cambodia since 1991 were conducted in circumstances that were not free and fair, and were marked by fraud, intimidation, violence, and the government’s misuse of legal mechanisms to weaken opposition candidates and parties.

(6) In the most recent general election in July 2018, following the dissolution of the CNRP, the CPP secured every parliamentary seat, an electoral victory that a statement from the White House Press Secretary stated was “neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people”.

(7) The United States is committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Cambodia. The United States continues to urge the Government of Cambodia to immediately release Mr. Kem Sokha, reinstate the political status of the CNRP and restore its elected seats in the National Assembly, and support electoral reform efforts in Cambodia with free and fair elections monitored by international observers.

SEC. 3. SANCTIONS RELATING TO UNDERMINING DEMOCRACY IN CAMBODIA.

(a) Designation Of Persons Responsible For Undermining Democracy In Cambodia.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall designate and transmit to the appropriate congressional committees a list of—

(A) each senior official of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia who the President determines has directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia;

(B) each senior official of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia who the President determines has committed or directed serious human rights violations associated with undermining democracy in Cambodia; and

(C) entities owned or controlled by senior officials of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia described in subparagraphs (A) and (B).

(2) IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS.—The President shall impose the sanctions described in subsection (b) on each foreign person designated pursuant to paragraph (1).

(3) UPDATES.—The President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees updated lists under paragraph (1) as new information becomes available.

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Hun Sen Dares Critics, Within and Without, to Challenge Him

The message, once again, was clear: If you want to fight me, let’s fight.

The silence from the military has spoken for itself, at least for now.

Still the premier’s hubristic style in the face of challenge only masks the unenviable position that has necessitated it. The two most lucrative markets for Cambodia’s limited exports remain under threat unless he quickly changes tack — or if E.U. and U.S. officials back down from their threats in the face of his daring recalcitrance.

Others in his party, on the other hand, may only be biding their time and waiting to see if he does anything to undermine his patient plans for a succession.

There is also a tension in his willingness to risk economic ruin amid diminishing exports at the same time he seeks to place his son at the head of a party long promoted as the home for the country’s businesspeople and those who do not “rock the boat.”

Op-Ed: VOD in English on Hun Sen Dares Critics, Within and Without, to Challenge Him

Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the 20-year anniversary of RCAF on January 24, 2019. (Photo/Courtesy of Facebook PM)

NEWS ANALYSIS

In his gravest moments of weakness, Prime Minister Hun Sen has never shied from daring his challengers to a fight.

From asking rival military forces to return in 1991 to ensuring ruling party rival Chea Sim visited Bangkok in 2004 for “medical care,” Hun Sen has made an art out of cloaking creeping fragility within a haze of dramatic displays of defiant cockiness.

The strategy has repeatedly paid dividends, with the prime minister most notably turning the July 1997 “coup d’etat” into the July 1998 “Miracle on the Mekong” election — as well as mounting protests against his rule in 2013 by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) into 2014’s “culture of dialogue.”

It is an aggression that gets results. Feeling his weight forced onto his back foot, Hun Sen’s response has been the same: If you want to fight me, let’s fight.

So too again now that the European Union and U.S. threaten to revoke Cambodia’s tariff-free access to their large markets — which buy two-thirds of the country’s exports through the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) and Generalized Systems of Privileges (GSP) schemes — if he does not reverse a descent into despotism.

As head of a regime that has long buttressed its legitimacy in economic development, a less experienced leader might be compelled to offer a brief display of contrition and flexibility when faced with the serious threat of economic damage.

For one, the recent fact-finding trip of the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Rhona Smith, to Cambodia for almost two weeks this month may have been seized as an opportunity to display a move back toward democracy.

Not so for Hun Sen, now in his 35th year of power.

On the contrary, in a move seemingly scheduled to coincide with the arrival of a U.N. official, whose opinions will undoubtedly influence decisions made by the E.U. and U.S. over the rest of the year, Hun Sen’s government dug in its heels.

Hence while Smith was winding up her trip to Phnom Penh on May 8 and 9, on the other side of Cambodia the Battambang Provincial Court was busily compelling more than 20 former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) figures to court on claims they were illegally cavorting over cold noodles.

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