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.
China’s dangerous military expansionism depends on compliant local regimes and inaction on the part of the international community. In the case of Cambodia, which has reportedly given China rights to a naval base, the international community should demand a new general election that does not exclude real challengers.
PARIS – It has long been feared that Cambodia’s growing dependence on China – its largest aid donor, investor, and creditor – would lead to a Chinese military presence in the country. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, those fears are now coming true.
Like a gambler reliant on a loan shark, Cambodia has, in recent years, racked up massive, opaque debts to China, which it cannot repay. This has given China considerable leverage, enabling it, for example, to evadeUS President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs, by re-routing exports to the United States through Cambodia’s Chinese-owned Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone.
Judging by China’s history of “debt-trap diplomacy,” it was only a matter of time before it used its leverage over Cambodia to strengthen its regional military posture. According to the Wall Street Journal, the time came this spring, when China and Cambodia secretly signed an agreement giving China exclusive rights to a part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand.
Both the Chinese and Cambodian governments deny the report, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called “made up” and “baseless.” But that should be no surprise: as Hun Sen noted, hosting foreign military bases is illegal in Cambodia, according to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that ended its long civil war. Furthermore, as the US Department of State has pointed out, Cambodia has a constitutional commitment to its people to maintain a neutral foreign policy.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China will be able to place armed forces at a Cambodian naval base under a secret agreement the two nations have reached, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, although Cambodian officials denied such a deal had been struck.
The agreement, reached this spring but not made public, gives China exclusive access to part of Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand, the Journal reported, citing U.S. and allied officials familiar with the matter.
Such an arrangement would give China an enhanced ability to assert contested territorial claims and economic interests in the South China Sea, challenging U.S. allies in Southeast Asia. Chinese and Cambodian officials denied such an agreement existed, according to the Journal.
Received; read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations
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.