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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Australia must stop ‘sucking up’ to Cambodia’s ‘gangster regime’: MP

Australia must stop ‘sucking up’ to Cambodia’s ‘gangster regime’: MP

By Anthony Galloway and James Massola

December 4, 2019 — 2.52pm

Australian MPs from both major parties have united to condemn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the wake of the dictator’s political opponent being put on trial for widely criticised treason charges.

Liberal and Labor politicians have also sounded the alarm on Chinese influence in the south-east Asian nation, including a planned military build up in the beach town of Sihanoukville.

Labor MP Julian Hill and Liberal senator James Paterson.
Labor MP Julian Hill and Liberal senator James Paterson.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

A Cambodian court this week sent Opposition Leader Kem Sokha’s case to trial, after he was arrested in 2017 and his party banned ahead of an election last year that was condemned by the international community.

Monovithya Kem, the exiled daughter of Mr Sokha and herself a major opposition figure, said the Australian government could do much more to pressure the Cambodian government.

“Targeted individual sanctions should happen immediately and only be lifted the day that Cambodia holds free, fair elections,” she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The European Union last month gave a one-month deadline for Hun Sen to explain what he will do to address human rights violations, while the United States Congress is also considering how to respond.

Labor MP Julian Hill said the Cambodian Prime Minister was running a “gangster regime” and Australia needed to change its approach.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen's actions have attracted the ire of Australian MPs.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s actions have attracted the ire of Australian MPs.CREDIT:AP

“Putting the Opposition Leader on trial for treason? I mean seriously,” Mr Hill said.

“The Australian Government has to stop sucking up to Hun Sen and rethink our approach.

“It’s way past time that Australia consider tougher measures such as visa bans and asset freezes for senior members of this odious regime.”

Mr Hill said he would now push for a parliamentary inquiry into Cambodia through the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Liberal Senator James Paterson said the charges against Mr Sokha were further evidence that Cambodia was flouting democratic norms.

“Julian Hill and I are unlikely allies. We are from opposite ends of opposing political parties,” Senator Paterson said.

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Hun Sen Responds to Trump Letter, Ignores Call for Course Correction

Hun Sen Responds to Trump Letter, Ignores Call for Course Correction

28 November 2019

In a letter to Trump, Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.
In a letter to Trump, Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.

Hun Sen’s letter called for the creation of a working group with member from both countries, with the aim of discussing ways to improve bilateral relations.PHNOM PENH — 

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday responded to a letter sent by President Donald Trump last week by saying he was keen to improve bilateral relations and hoped to move past the “dark chapters” of their shared history.

The prime minister wrote his own letter, dated November 26, 2019, in response to a letter sent by President Trump and delivered by U.S. Ambassador W Patrick Murphy last week. In that letter, Trump said the U.S. was looking to restore bilateral relations and was not pushing for a regime change.

Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.

“I am of the view that we should not become hostage of a few dark chapters of our own history,” Hun Sen writes in the letter. “There are so many other beautiful chapters that are worth nourishing for the greater good of both of our countries and people.”

The Cambodian government has routinely accused the United States of orchestrating an alleged color revolution to overthrow the government. It used this so-called revolution narrative to dissolve the opposition party in 2017, jail opposition leader Kem Sokha, and crackdown on NGOs and independent media organizations.

Hun Sen’s letter called for the creation of a working group with member from both countries, with the aim of discussing ways to improve bilateral relations.

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Hun Sen rival faces trial even as EU threatens Cambodia sanctions

Hun Sen rival faces trial even as EU threatens Cambodia sanctions

Op-Ed: Nekei Asean Review, Kem Sokha will be tried for treason despite being released from house arrest

SHAUN TURTON, Contributing Writer NOVEMBER 19, 2019 14:35 JST

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the European Union flag. The EU last week sent Cambodia its preliminary report on whether to suspend the country from special trade privileges over its human rights record. (Nikkei Montage/ Source photo by Reuters)

PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is pressing ahead with a treason case against a leading opposition figure who has just been released from house arrest, despite the nation facing European Union trade sanctions over its human rights record.

Hun Sen said on Monday that charges against Kem Sokha would not be dropped as demanded by the EU, Cambodia’s biggest export destination. “This case doesn’t require one or two days, or one month or two months, it will take a long time,” the strongman leader said.

Sokha was arrested in 2017 and faces up to 15 years in prison for what the government has claimed were plans for a U.S.-backed coup. His arrest and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling that dissolved his main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), saw Hun Sen’s ruling party capture every parliamentary seat in last year’s national election.

The crackdown, which also targeted civil society and media outlets, sparked an EU review of the country’s special trade privileges under the Everything But Arms scheme (EBA).

Losing the preference, which grants duty and quota free access to the bloc for all exports except weapons and ammunition, could be disastrous for the country’s 750,000-worker strong apparel and footwear sector, which generated more than $8 billion in exports last year.

The EU last week sent Cambodia its preliminary report on whether to suspend the country from the initiative, which is conditional on countries abiding by human and labor rights set out by the United Nations.

Its findings were not made public but a leaked copy, obtained by Radio Free Asia, reportedly concluded Cambodia had not taken enough steps to address “severe and systematic” violations of its principles.

In a statement, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed RFA’s coverage of the report was “not accurate” but did not provide any details from the document to contradict the outlet’s story. It said the government would review the report and submit “an appropriate response that will reflect updates of recent developments.”

In a sign of the mounting pressure, authorities last week relaxed house arrest conditions for Sokha, who can now travel in Cambodia but cannot leave the country or participate in political activities. The court also officially closed the case’s more than two-year investigation period.

In announcing the charges would not be dropped on Monday, Hun Sen claimed the court process was “independent,” an assertion at odds with the track record of Cambodia’s politically compliant judiciary.

President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha, right, shakes hands with European Union ambassador to Cambodia Carmen Moreno at his home in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13.   © Reuters

Just last week, Hun Sen ordered the release on bail of more than 70 opposition activists arrested for supporting failed plans by self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia and lead an uprising.

Following a familiar playbook, the moves appeared an effort to soften the oppression of opponents. The government also announced tentative steps to allowing independent media to once again purchase airtime on local radio stations.

Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” said using prisoners as “bargaining chips” was a well established practice by the strongman over his 30 years in power.

“These types of concessions have long been part of the political game,” he said.

“The pattern has concealed a steady drift towards more and more control in Hun Sen and the CPP’s hands,” Strangio said. “The EU had to threaten half a billion dollars estimated worth of economic impacts on Cambodia in order to get Hun Sen to back down on this and it’s taken a plus to get this concession out of him.”

But whether Hun Sen’s apparent concessions will sway the EU remains to be seen. While Sokha’s improved conditions were welcomed, the move also appeared a strategic ploy to engender a split between the opposition leader and his CNRP co-founder, Sam Rainsy.

“The decision has been made to play Kem Sokha against Sam Rainsy, to dilute, diminish or marginalize Sam Rainsy at the time his status has been rising,” longtime Cambodian political commentator Lao Mong Hay told the Nikkei Asian Review. “It’s too late and too little,” he said of the concessions.

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy talks to the media upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Indonesia on Thursday. He met lawmakers in Indonesia before returning to his base in Paris.   © AP

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