U.S. orders arms embargo on Cambodia

December 11, 2021

u.s. orders arms embargo on cambodia, cites chinese influence

The United States has ordered an arms embargo on Cambodia, citing deepening Chinese military influence, corruption and human rights abuses by the government and armed forces in the Southeast Asian country.

According to a statement from the Commerce Department, the aim of the embargo is to ensure that defense-related items are not available to Cambodia’s military and military intelligence services without advance review by the U.S. government.

The State Department added Cambodia to the list of countries to which all armed exports are banned, according to a filing with the Federal Register.

The impact of arms embargo on Cambodia

The impact the ban will have is unclear. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States is not a supplier of arms to Cambodia.

Ties between the United States and Cambodia have been tense following reports in 2019 that Beijing signed a secret agreement allowing its armed forces to exclusively use parts of the country’s Ream Naval Base along the Gulf of Thailand. 

While the Chinese military has denied the reports, the Biden administration last month imposed sanctions against involved companies and individuals, including against two senior Cambodian defense officials for corruption related to the base.

Cambodia branded those sanctions as “politically motivated” and said it would not discuss them with Washington.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called U.S. attempts to “drive wedges” between his country and Cambodia “doomed” at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

Cambodia’s biggest investor  

China is Cambodia’s biggest investor and closest political partner. It was the chief backer of the murderous regime of Pol Pot in the 1970s and has long maintained strong relations with Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 30 years and grown increasingly repressive.

Beijing’s support allows Cambodia to disregard Western concerns about its poor record in human and political rights, and in return Cambodia generally supports Beijing’s geopolitical positions on issues such as its territorial claims in the South China sea.

‘I have the hammer’

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has stepped up engagement with the junta in his role as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations” chair, a move that threatens to split the bloc.

ASEAN in October took a rare step of denying the Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing a seat at a summit hosted by the previous chair, Brunei.

Hun Sen said earlier this week that the regime has the right to attend ASEAN meetings. He also accepted an invitation to visit Myanmar next month, the first government to do so since the junta took control since February.

“I have the hammer here but I do not use it yet,” Hun Sen said during a speech on December 2 likening Asean to a house, and Myanmar to a broken pillar. 

In a statement, Treasury alleged that in 2020 and 2021, the two conspired with other Cambodian officials to inflate costs of a construction project at the Ream Base and then planned to use the funds for their benefits.

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