Cambodia’s Disastrous Dependence on China: A History Lesson

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

Cambodia’s Disastrous Dependence on China: A History Lesson
Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then living in exile, arrives in Beijing after an 11-nation state tour, July 5, 1973.Credit: AP Photo/Horst Faas

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.

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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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The day the nightmare started

The calm did not last long. By early afternoon the Khmer Rouge were ordering all residents to leave the city with a minimum of belongings, the start of what turned out to be a death march for thousands. The city remained mostly empty until the Vietnamese invasion almost five years later. “Some soldiers were shooting in the air in order to force the inhabitants to flee the city,” Neveu said.

បដិវត្តន៌ចេញពីព្រៃភ្នំ
Phnom Penh fell with barely a fight and the victorious Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces entered the city from all sides. Photo: Roland Neveu

It has been estimated that at least 20,000 people perished during the evacuation of the capital. It marked the start of what many have referred to as “Year Zero,” with the Khmer Rouge emptying towns and cities and forcing city-dwellers to become slave laborers in the countryside. By some accounts, Phnom Penh’s population dropped from two million to 25,000 in only three days, and by the end of the Khmer Rouge rein in 1979, one in four Cambodians had died.

Continue to read entire article at Asia Time…

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Where in the world is Cambodia?

Op-Ed: NewMandala

Considering the prime minister’s firm control over Cambodia’s political and economic institutions and his proven ability to exploit the tension caused by conflicts and disputes in all those three areas(a narrative of suspicion, moral superiority and hierarchy, and a new rhetoric) , a thorough review of democracy promoters’ rhetoric and strategy might well be overdue.

ពិចារណាលើការក្តោបអំណាចយ៉ាងមាំរបស់លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រីទៅលើស្ថាប័នសេដ្ឋកិច្ចនិងនយោបាយ ហើយសមត្ថភាពជាក់ស្តែងរបស់គាត់ដើម្បីកេងចំណេញលើភាពតានតឹងបណ្តាលមកពីការបែកបាក់និងជំលោះនៅគ្រប់លក្ខ័ន្ធទាំងបីនោះ(សាច់រឿងអោយមានការសង្ស័យ, ឋានានុក្រមនិងសក្តិយសខ្ពស់ផ្នែកសីលធម៌, និងវោហាសាស្ត្រថ្មី)ការពិនិត្យពិច័យល្អិតល្អន់ទៅលើវោហាសាស្ត្រនិងយុទ្ធសាស្ត្ររបស់អ្នកផ្សព្វផ្សាយលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យអាចនឹងត្រូវហួសពេលអស់យ៉ាងច្បាស់។

Read the whole article with newmandala in details

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy (C-L) raises hands with Kem Sokha (C-R), deputy of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in front of members of parliament before the swearing in ceremony inside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2014. Rainsy and 54 other members of his party were sworn in as members of parliament on August 5, after a year-long boycott of parliament triggered by a disputed election. AFP PHOTO/ TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP PHOTO / TANG CHHIN SOTHY
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy (C-L) raises hands with Kem Sokha (C-R), deputy of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in front of members of parliament before the swearing in ceremony inside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on August 5, 2014. Rainsy and 54 other members of his party were sworn in as members of parliament on August 5, after a year-long boycott of parliament triggered by a disputed election. AFP PHOTO/ TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP PHOTO / TANG CHHIN SOTHY

Mu Sochua closed her talk by singing a song from the campaign trail.
Mu Sochua closed her talk by singing a song from the campaign trail.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, the United States, 28 September 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz).
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, the United States, 28 September 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz).

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