“[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.”
“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.”
“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 Roadinitiative. 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.”
There is growing concern about the European Union’s (EU) proposed suspension of its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement with Cambodia, a move which could set the country back years.
Established in 2001, EBA gives 49 of the world’s least developed countries tax-free access to vital EU markets for their exports except for arms and ammunition.
While the EU has always warned that EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, there is a real threat that this could come at the cost of massive unemployment and stagnant growth in Cambodia.
Role in economy, employment
Making up 39 percent of the country’s total exports, the garment and footwear sectors employ more than 700,000 Cambodians and are the country’s largest employers. Cambodia’s exports to the EU totalled US$5.47 billion last year – more than a third of its total exports – with textiles and footwear making up the majority of that sum.
After the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia warned of a halt in the country’s development in February due to the possible EBA suspension, the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NUACC) last week said that the lifting of the tariff system will affect the livelihoods of about three million Cambodians.
On 2 May, a coalition of 20 international brands which source from Cambodia – including Nike, adidas and Levi Strauss – wrote a letter to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen outlining their concerns that the labour and human rights situation in Cambodia is posing a risk to trade preferences for the country.
The EBA suspension would increase tariffs in the garment sector by 12 percent and the footwear sector by eight to 16 percent, costing US$676 million in additional taxes. The fear is that the rise in tariffs could lead to investors moving to other countries that enjoy EBA, thus affecting Cambodian jobs.
The NUACC estimated that some 43 percent of garment workers (nearly 225,000 people) and 20 percent of footwear workers (more than 20,000 people) would be left unemployed, stating that “research suggests and history demonstrates that economic sanctions lead to an increase in poverty – especially among women, minority communities and other marginalised groups.”
Why is the EBA being removed?
The EBA has led to a 630 percent increase in Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports to the EU since 2008, helping the Cambodian economy to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018 according to the World Bank. The two sectors recorded a five-year high in 2018, rising by 17.6 percent – more than double the 8.3 percent increase in 2017.
Helping to lift one-third of the country’s population out of poverty between 2007 and 2014, the garment and footwear sectors are now at risk following the EU’s decision to start an 18-month review on whether to suspend duty-free preferences in February after the European Commission called Cambodia out for its “deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
The EU warned Cambodia that it could lose this special status after last July’s elections kept Hun Sen in power and saw his Cambodian People’s Party win all parliamentary seats.
Just your word to last tribute to the death of your friend, Cambodian incumbent authoritative and illegitimate leaders, both elders and youngs, have come out to denounce you. As I am younger generation, Cambodia is shameful by those irrational leaders who are very defensive, conservative, and radical in protecting foreigner like Vietnam. When they come out to denounce your statement about past invasion of Vietnam into Cambodia’s soil, it is not different from anti-national interests, anti-national constitution, and anti- the will of Cambodian people.
The CPP has been astute in their defending the action of Vietnam’s presence in Cambodia by claiming such action as liberation, not invasion…hence, their claim has resulted of losing support from Cambodian voters until they have decisively turned to use mean of last resort to renew power by using the Supreme Court to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) without having credible legal cause. By this gross act against the will of Cambodian people, CPP under Hun Sen leadership has likely changed to the Khmer Rouge leadership style by turning back on their own people or Westerners called “Enemy of the People”. Such heretic and paranoid power thirst, history of atrocity and crime against humanity would be possibly repeated itself.
There are also weirdest reaction from youngsters of those elites of Cambodia. They came out to denounce your statement and praise the Vietnamese. Those youngsters have been really domesticated by their elders to conduct “outward” policy towards foreigner such as Vietnam at the expenses of Cambodia’s interests. Those youngsters are believably groomed by corruption, entitlement and wealth without carrying basic humanity such as social justice, code of ethics, integrity, professionalism, and hard working to leapfrog from the incumbent political behaviour of division and serving foreign’s interests. Sometime, their graduation from Western sphere is just a brand to continually manipulate Cambodian public as their mindset and political behaviour are at the same baseline of their parents.