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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Letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore

Dear Mr. Lee;

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.

Sincerely yours,

Sophoan Seng

Lee Kuan Yew mentioned the Vietnam Invasion of Cambodia
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Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Dismisses Calls For Resignation, Vows to ‘Wage War’ on Opposition

Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen Dismisses Calls For Resignation, Vows to ‘Wage War’ on Opposition

Op-Ed: RFA, 2019-05-30

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during the 25th International Conference on The Future Of Asia in Tokyo, May 30, 2019.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during the 25th International Conference on The Future Of Asia in Tokyo, May 30, 2019.

 AFP

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday brushed aside calls by members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan to resign, pledging instead to “wage war” against his country’s banned opposition party and vowing to “destroy” its acting president, Sam Rainsy.

During the third day of his May 28-31 visit to Tokyo to attend the 25th session of the Future of Asia conference, Hun Sen told regional leaders during a speech that he has no plans to step down or to back off former members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved in November 2017 for its alleged role in a plot to topple the government.

“I am declaring today that we will continue to implement legal measures against those who are being charged [with crimes],” Hun Sen said, referring to members of the CNRP leadership in exile, including Sam Rainsy, who fled the country in 2016 to avoid what he says are politically motivated convictions, and has worked to gather support for the party abroad.

“Meanwhile, I am waging war against a person [Sam Rainsy] who has claimed to have established a movement in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia to stage a war against me,” he added, calling the CNRP chief “a dog that I need to destroy.”

As long as the CNRP “continues to wage a war against me, I will continue to fight them,” Hun Sen vowed.

The 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the CNRP paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to steamroll a general election in July last year widely seen as unfree and unfair, amid a wider crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media.

In addition to ongoing political restrictions on former CNRP officials, authorities have summoned dozens of former CNRP members in Battambang and Kampong Thom provinces for questioning in recent weeks for allegedly violating the Supreme Court decision after they were seen in public eating noodles together or had expressed support in social media posts for the party’s leaders.

Anti-Hun Sen protests

On Thursday, more than 30 members of Japan’s Cambodian diaspora held a protest outside of Hun Sen’s hotel in Tokyo, carrying banners demanding that he step down, and urging China to stop supporting his rule.

They also gathered outside of the home of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in front of the National Diet of Japan, or parliament, shouting “Hun Sen must go” and likening him to Pol Pot, under whose 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime an estimated 3 million Cambodians are believed to have died.

Several protesters told RFA’s Khmer Service that they had left Cambodia to find work in Japan because they lacked opportunities back home, including Nep Bora, who said she envies Japanese citizens because “their government is taking care of them.”

“Hun Sen has been in power for about 40 years, but we don’t even have enough water and electricity,” she said of Southeast Asia’s longest ruling strongman.

Others highlighted governance issues under Hun Sen’s watch that include forest destruction, land disputes, rampant corruption, and widespread poverty.

In response to Hun Sen’s comments on Thursday, Sam Rainsy told RFA that the CNRP has no intention of starting a war against the prime minister, who he labeled a “gangster” that resorts to “abusive language.”

“We don’t regard Cambodians as enemies,” he said.

“Hun Sen is waging a war against Cambodians … I am appealing to Cambodians to oppose this dictator to prevent him from destroying our nation.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay warned that the war of words between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy is affecting Cambodia’s international reputation.

He also suggested that Hun Sen’s threats are part of a bid to dissuade Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia, as he has vowed to do this year so that he can lead the opposition to victory over the ruling party.

Members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan display a banner used in a protest against Hun Sen in Tokyo, May 30, 2019. Credit: RFA listenersUS relations

While in Japan, Hun Sen expressed gratitude to his hosts for contributing to Cambodia’s development through financing and infrastructure, as well as investment by the Japanese private sector, and called for additional assistance from Tokyo going forward.

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Cambodia’s opposition faces renewed crackdown amid China shift

As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears.

The family said they were told by prison officials that Rorn had a seizure, hit his head and died – but they dispute the story. According to Tita, Rorn had no history of epilepsy and his injuries did not seem consistent with a seizure.

After the funeral, Tita fled the village. He said police had come looking for him at his home on two occasions.

“I am scared but I want to tell the truth and I want justice,” he said.

Cambodia’s opposition faces renewed crackdown amid China shift

Op-Ed: Al Jazeera

With senior leaders jailed or exiled, local and regional supporters of opposition report attacks and harassment.by Andrew Nachemson & Yon Sineat19 May 2019

CNRP leader Kem Sokha greets supporters on the last day of campaigning ahead of local elections in 2017. He was detained a few months later and remains under house arrest [File: Heng Sinith/AP Photo]
CNRP leader Kem Sokha greets supporters on the last day of campaigning ahead of local elections in 2017. He was detained a few months later and remains under house arrest [File: Heng Sinith/AP Photo]

MORE ON CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Nol Puthearith was a security guard at the headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and continued to watch over the building in the Cambodian capital even after the main opposition party itself was forcibly dissolved by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Chinese investment brings casinos to Cambodia (2:34)

Last month, he was attacked by a group of strangers.

“They beat me until I was unconscious,” said Puthearith, who has supported the opposition and acted as a bodyguard for party leaders since the late 1990s. “I have no idea who they are and I can’t identify them.”

A week after the April 13 attack in Phnom Penh, another opposition member named Tith Rorn was taken to a police station in Kampong Cham province for questioning over a crime that had taken place more than a decade ago.

Cambodian court issues arrest warrants for top opposition leaders

While not directly related, the two events are part of what some observers see as a pattern of ongoing abuse and intimidation against political opponents of Hun Sen, exacerbated by a recent threat by the European Union to cancel its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement with Cambodia over its human rights record.

Hun Sen has accused the EU of holding Cambodia hostage and warned that he would renew his crackdown on the opposition if Europe did not relent.

Lee Morgenbesser, author of Behind the Facade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, said that while the CNRP is officially disbanded, the government still fears its influence because its supporters have been driven underground.

“Hun Sen’s government has eliminated the threat of the CNRP at the national level, but it has much work to do at the local level,” he explained. “The problem for Hun Sen now is identifying who to repress, how to repress them and when to repress them.”

The CNRP’s leader Kem Sokha remains under house arrest after he was detained at the end of 2017 and accused of treason.

The party itself, which came a close second in the 2013 national elections and in the 2017 local polls, was dissolved two years ago on spurious allegations of attempted revolution aided by the United States. The move ensured that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) secured every one of the 125 seats in the National Assembly in last year’s election.

Although there was a relaxation of political repression after the polls and many political prisoners were released, including 14 members of the CNRP, the attacks on opposition supporters have now resumed.

CNRP member Kong Mas, who supported cancelling the EBA, was arrested for incitement in January.


Tith Rorn, a supporter of Cambodia’s opposition CNRP who was detained over a fight that happened 13 years ago and died in mysterious circumstances in prison three days later [Al Jazeera]

Beatings, assaults

At least three individuals, including Puthearith, have been assaulted in cases the party claims are politically motivated since March.

Rorn, the CNRP coordinator, was arrested on April 15 over a fight with a pro-government activist that took place 13 years ago, well beyond the statute of limitations. He later died in prison.READ MORE

Trick or real? CNRP split over Cambodia move to ease politics ban

After the altercation, Rorn fled to Anlong Veng near the Thai border but came home from time to time. He had been living in the village for about a year when the police came for him.

“On the second day of Khmer New Year at 7:30 in the morning, police came and said they needed to take him for questioning,” his father, Eam Tita, a provincial coordinator for the CNRP in Kampong Cham, told Al Jazeera from an undisclosed location.

“After they took him for questioning, he never came back and three days later police told my neighbour that my son had died.”

As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears.

The family said they were told by prison officials that Rorn had a seizure, hit his head and died – but they dispute the story. According to Tita, Rorn had no history of epilepsy and his injuries did not seem consistent with a seizure.

“There were bruises all over his body like he had been beaten and his neck was broken,” Tita said. The family was unable to get a doctor to do an official autopsy, because doctors in the area were too scared to get involved.

After the funeral, Tita fled the village. He said police had come looking for him at his home on two occasions.

“I am scared but I want to tell the truth and I want justice,” he said.


Popular opposition figure Sin Rozeth takes a selfie with a supporter after being interrogated for more than four hours by a provincial court in Battambang [Andrew Nachemson/Al Jazeera]

Strengthening grip

On May 10, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a group of MPs from around Southeast Asia, called for an independent investigation into Rorn’s death. In a statement, the group urged the Cambodian government to stop targeting members of the opposition.

“The continued attacks on the opposition shows that the government has no interest in meaningful dialogue, but is only concerned with strengthening its own grip on power,” said Charles Santiago, APHR chairman and a Malaysian MP, said in the statement.

Last week, the US State Department also released a statement expressing concern and calling for an investigation, as well as for the release of Kem Sokha.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Rhona Smith, has also expressed worry, noting “few tangible improvements” in the political environment.

“I remain concerned that pressure on former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party continue unabated,” she said in a press conference at the end of a fact-finding mission on May 9.

Puthearith, the security guard, fled to Thailand after he was attacked, but he says colleagues informed him that police have come looking for him three times. He fears he might be permanently detained or worse.

“I’m very concerned for my safety, that’s why I fled Cambodia. What happened to me is politically motivated because I didn’t know those people and I also don’t have any conflict with anyone,” Puthearith said.


Smith: ‘I remain concerned that pressure on former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party continue unabated’ [Heng Sinith/AP Photo]

‘Seek refugee status, not a problem’

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