CAMBODIA’S RELATIONS WITH CHINA

CAMBODIA’S RELATIONS WITH CHINA

Many Cambodians look to China for the future. The Hun Sen government has gone out of their way to be accommodating to the Chinese, who ironically were the Khmer Rouge’s biggest supporters. In 1997, Cambodia kicked out the Taiwan cultural and trade office . Hun Sen’s power has grown as support from China has increased.

According to Reuters: “Strong economic and political ties with Beijing have allowed Hun Sen to largely ignore criticism from the West and enjoy waves of Chinese investment. In return, Cambodia has emerged as an important Southeast Asian ally for China, defying its neighbours and backing China in tense diplomatic talks over the South China Sea where overlapping sovereignty claims have led to standoffs with Vietnam and the Philippines.” [Source: Reuters,

Sopheng Cheang of Associated Press wrote: “China has maintained a high profile in Cambodia despite its previous strong backing of the Khmer Rouge regime that caused the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the late 1970s. Hun Sen has described China as Cambodia's "most trustworthy friend." In return, Beijing has rewarded his government with millions of dollars in aid over the last decade, agreed to write off past debts and granted it tariff-free status for some 400 items. [Source: Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press, April 8, 2013]

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “China has exercised imperial sway over Cambodia for centuries. Eight hundred years ago, Chinese troops bailed out Khmer kings; friendly Chinese warriors are carved on the side of the famed 12th-century Bayon temple near Angkor Wat. In the 1950s and 1960s, Communist China embraced the regime of King Norodom Sihanouk and provided the Khmer Rouge with inspiration, security and economic assistance throughout their bloody rule from 1975 to 1979. Sihanouk, now 88 and the king father, resides in Beijing. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010]

See History, Minorities, Trade

Cambodia’s Friendly Relations with China

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “On an official level, relations between Beijing and Phnom Penh are now at their warmest since the 1970s, when China pumped aid, arms and advisers into Cambodia to help the Khmer Rouge, which ruled here from 1975 to 1979 and abolished all land rights in a murderous communist revolution that dotted the country with “killing fields” and left up to a third of the population dead. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post September 25, 2012 /\]

“That shared revolutionary ardor faded long ago, replaced in recent years by the bonds of profit between Cambodia’s corrupt governing elite and Chinese companies looking for land to build on, rivers to dam, highways to pave and forests to cut down. Parts of this burgeoning economic alliance have brought undoubted benefits to ordinary Cambodians, most notably hundreds of miles of new roads and tens of thousands of jobs in Chinese-owned factories. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said China has done far more than the United States — which bombed the country mercilessly during the Vietnam War and is still pressing it to repay loans granted in the early 1970s — to help Cambodia recover from decades of conflict. /\

“China has written off many old debts and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in new low- interest credits to fund the construction, mostly by Chinese companies, of government buildings, dams, roads, bridges and ports. “The building where we sit is Chinese,” said Phay Siphan, referring to a shiny new complex that houses the offices of hundreds of officials. Chinese companies, meanwhile, have invested nearly $9 billion in Cambodia since 1994, according to official Chinese reports — compared with just $77.8 million in American investment registered over the same period. /\

Don Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “For centuries, the Kingdom of Cambodia has tried to fend off greater powers such as Thailand, Vietnam and France. But today Phnom Penh is welcoming the Chinese with open arms, praising Beijing as a government that offers its largess unconditionally. Some Western diplomats see China's growing influence here as a threat to American political interests in the region. [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006 ^^]

“Cambodia has embraced the Middle Kingdom because "China has proven different from other donors. They don't impose conditions," Cham Prasidh, the minister of commerce, said in an interview here. "Others say, 'You have to do this with human rights, you have to do that with democratic reforms.' China doesn't do that." China's interest in this country -- where income per person was $350 in 2004 -- is largely driven by the same need that is sending Chinese to remote regions in Africa, Central Asia and South America: to secure natural resources to fuel its expanding economy and enhance its global political muscle. ^^

“Chinese academics said Beijing had good reason to extend its hand toward Cambodia. "China needs Cambodia's cooperation on many important issues, such as Taiwan, Tibet and human rights," said Shen Shishun, director of Asia-Pacific studies at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing. Throughout Phnom Penh, hundreds of storefront signs are written in both Khmer and Chinese. Ethnic Chinese account for just 1 percent of Cambodia's population, but as in other Southeast Asian countries, they play a significant role in commerce. Chinese businesspeople are helping to build a $10-million Chinatown near the French Embassy. Yet many Cambodians are wary of China's growing presence in their homeland. Some talk bitterly about Beijing's support for Pol Pot, the man who engineered the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, which left more than 1 million Cambodians dead on killing fields or from hunger. ^^

Cambodia’s Support of China in the South China Sea--Spartly Islands Dispute

Cambodia has also worked hard within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to protect China’s diplomatic interests, particularly in relation to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In July 2012, ASEAN foreign ministers who gathered in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in July 2012 failed to adopt a unified stand over disputes in the South China Sea. ASEAN's discord had been manipulated by Beijing with one Chinese leader after another—including President Hu Jintao--visiting Phnom Penh to pledge economic and military assistance and entice Cambodia, the chair of ASEAN for the year 2012, into respecting China's position. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 24, 2012. Shiraishi is president of both the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and the Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization]

Robert Haddick wrote in Foreign Policy, the “ASEAN conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, aimed at making progress on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, collapsed in acrimony and failed, for the first time in 45 years, to agree on a concluding joint statement. Vietnam and the Philippines were particularly upset that their Southeast Asian neighbors made no progress on a unified stance against Chinese encroachments in the sea.”[Source: Robert Haddick, Foreign Policy, August 3, 2012]

“The collapse of ASEAN's attempt to establish a code of conduct for settling disputes in the sea benefits China's salami-slicing strategy. A multilateral code of conduct would have created a legitimate framework for dispute resolution and would have placed all claimant countries on an equal footing. Without such a code, China can now use its power advantage to dominate bilateral disputes with its small neighbors and do so without the political consequences of acting outside an agreed set of rules. [Ibid]

At the ASEAN meeting, Cambodia sided with China and prevented the 10-nation bloc from issuing a customary concluding statement that covers achievements and concerns —which in 2012 primarily involved the South China Sea. In July 2012, Reuters reported: “ Divisions between the 10 countries ASEAN follow a rise in incidents of naval brinkmanship involving Chinese vessels in the oil-rich waters that has sparked fears of a military clash. The Philippines said it "deplores" ASEAN's failure to address the worsening row, and criticized Cambodia -- a close ally of China -- for its handling of the issue during the foreign ministers' meeting. Without mentioning China, Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario told a news conference in Manila that one "member state's" intrusions into Philippine territory were part of a "creeping imposition" of its claim over the entire South China Sea and were raising the risk of a conflict...Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said he was "very disappointed" over the failure to issue a statement.[Source: Prak Chan Thul and Stuart Grudgings, Reuters, July 13, 2012]

“China has been accused of using its heavy influence over summit chair Cambodia and several other ASEAN members to block regional-level discussions on the issue and attempts to agree a binding maritime Code of Conduct to manage the dispute. The Philippines said it took "strong exception" to Cambodia's statement that the non-issuance of a communique was due to "bilateral conflict between some ASEAN member states and a neighboring country". [Ibid]

In August 2012, AFP reported: Cambodia's ambassador to the Philipines has been recalled, Manila's foreign minister said Friday, after the envoy accused his host country of playing "dirty politics" in its maritime row with China. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that Cambodian ambassador Hos Sereythonh had been recalled, although he did not give reasons. The recall came after del Rosario summoned the ambassador last month to explain comments he made in a letter to a Manila newspaper blaming the Philippines and Vietnam for a rift at a regional conference in Cambodia. [Source: AFP, August 10, 2012]

The ambassador's comments had further deepened divisions within the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after a ministerial meeting hosted by Cambodia ended in disarray over the sea dispute. The Philippines had charged that during the meeting Cambodia, a close ally of China, rejected at least five drafts of a joint statement that would have addressed the maritime row with Beijing over the South China Sea. Two weeks later, in a letter to the Philippine Star, a popular daily, Hos Sereythonh accused the Philippines and Vietnam of working to "sabotage and hijack the joint communique" during the ASEAN meeting.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast natural resources. But ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the area. Tensions have escalated this year, with Beijing becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with Manila and Hanoi. Diplomats had said the Philippines called on its fellow ASEAN members at the Cambodia meeting to support it against China.

See South China Sea, Spartly Islands Dispute

Chinese Aid and Investment in Cambodia

Andrew R. C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul of Reuters reported: “Chinese investment pledged in Cambodia has totaled $9.1 billion since 1994, including almost $1.2 billion in 2011 — eight times as much as was pledged from the United States, according to the Cambodia Investment Board. China is also Cambodia’s largest aid donor. That money carries political clout. Last year, Cambodia used its powers as leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, to stifle discussion on the South China Sea, where Chinese territorial claims overlap those of five other countries. In Cambodia, however, Chinese companies remain tight-lipped and closely allied with an authoritarian government that jailed record numbers of land-rights activists last year . In one token of their close collaboration with the government, Chinese projects in Cambodia are often guarded by soldiers or military police. Chinese workers often dress in military fatigues. [Source: Andrew R. C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, February 14, 2013 <>]

Sopheng Cheang of Associated Press wrote: “China pledged US$600 million in aid to Cambodia the last day of Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to the impoverished Southeast Asian country, a government official said. Wen and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also held talks and presided over the signing of 11 bilateral agreements, said Sri Thamrong, an adviser to Hun Sen. "If we put the figure of loans and grants together we have received from China today about US$600 million," Sri Thamrong told reporters. He said about US$200 million (164 million) is a low-interest loan for building two bridges. [Source: Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press, April 8, 2013]

The event and the new aid pledges were seen as a symbol of China's deepening influence in Cambodia. Investments by Chinese companies in Cambodia were worth some US$240 million (197 million) last year, more than from any other nation. Most Chinese investments were in the garment industry, Cambodia's main foreign exchange earner. Cambodia last year awarded a US$280 million (230 million) contract to the Chinese state-run company Sinohydro Corp. to build a hydropower plant in the country's southwest.

Don Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Chinese are digging up minerals and exploring for oil. They are cutting down forests and in some places planting saplings. And across Cambodia, they are building garment factories, power plants, bridges and roads, some into neighboring Laos. By Phnom Penh's tally, Chinese state-owned and private companies plowed more than $450 million into Cambodia in 2005— a 460 percent increase over 2004 -- making China by far the nation's top foreign investor. Beijing says it is also giving hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and aid to Cambodia, easily surpassing the $62 million in loans and aid from the U.S. [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006 ^^]

“China's trek is often secretive, as banker John Brinsden has learned.The Briton is vice chairman of locally owned Acleda Bank. A field representative in Rovieng, a tiny farming village, recently called by shortwave radio to tell him that a potential client had moved to the remote area. Brinsden drove eight hours north along mostly dirt roads to the village, which is surrounded by jungle -- and land mines. Next to the bank's outpost, Brinsden could see that a mining company was setting up offices behind a corrugated fence. But in his research later, he could find no permits or other records of the company. To the veteran banker, this was the Chinese way of doing business in Cambodia. "They're very low-key," he said. ^^

“China's spending spree has helped Cambodia's economy come out of the doldrums. Tourism and garment production are growing briskly. Luxury sport utility vehicles are a common sight in the streets of Phnom Penh. The country's banks hold 30 percent more in deposits than a year ago. The cash is certainly flowing at Naga's casino next to Buddhist temples on the eastern end of town. A construction firm from China is building a 500-room hotel by the gambling hall for its Chinese Malaysian owner. "The big rollers are from mainland China," said Michael Nen, a former Long Beach policeman who runs security for Naga Resorts & Casinos here. ^^

“Some Cambodians complain that the Chinese, along with other foreign companies, are plundering the nation and buying up vast swaths of land in secret deals with corrupt local officials. Such trade has uprooted families and made life harder for many people, they say. Companies are racing to exploit oil and natural gas deposits found beneath Cambodia's waters last year. Chevron Corp. has locked up key drilling sites, but Chinese enterprises, including state-owned CNOOC Ltd., which lost its bid for Unocal Corp. to Chevron last year, are jockeying for an advantage in Cambodia. ^^

China Gives Cambodia $500 Million Aid for Help in South China Sea Dispute

In September 2012, Reuters reported: “China has pledged more than $500 million in soft loans and grants to Cambodia and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao thanked it for helping Beijing maintain good relations with ASEAN. A summit of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in the group's 45-year history after disagreement over the wording of a section on territorial claims in the South China Sea. Cambodia, which chaired ASEAN in 2012, was accused by some countries in the group of stonewalling in support of its ally, China. [Source: Reuters, September 4, 2012]

Four loan agreements for unspecified projects worth about $420 million were signed when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited China. Another three loan agreements, worth more than $80 million, were expected to be signed this year, Cambodia's Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Porn Moniroth said, adding that Wen had also promised a grant of 150 million yuan ($24 million) as "a gift" for Cambodia to use on any priority project. "The Chinese government also voiced high appreciation for the part played by Cambodia as the chair of ASEAN to maintain good cooperation between China and ASEAN," Aun Porn Moniroth said.

According to China's Xinhua state news agency, Wen said China "will closely coordinate with Cambodia and support the country to make the upcoming series of meetings for East Asian leaders a success". Those meeting are in Cambodia in November. Chinese investment in Cambodia totaled $1.9 billion last year, more than double the combined investment by ASEAN countries and 10 times more than the United States, which is trying to extend its influence in the region. Aun Porn Moniroth said Premier Wen had given "positive consideration" to Hun Sen's proposal that China provide new loans of between $300 million to $500 million per year for the next five years for unspecified projects. He also said a Chinese firm planned to invest $2 billion to build a steel plant in Cambodia employing about 10,000 people and with the capacity to produce 3 million tons of steel a year. He gave no details so it was not possible to verify how far advanced the plans were.

China’s Ambitious But Questionable Projects in Cambodia

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “In Cambodia, Chinese firms have turned mining and agricultural concessions in Mondulkiri province in the eastern part of the country into no-go zones for Cambodian police. Guards at the gates to two of them - a gold mine and a hemp plantation - shoo travelers away unless they are able to pay a toll. "It's like a country within a country," quipped Cambodia's minister of interior, Sar Kheng, at a law enforcement conference earlier this year, according to participants at the meeting. China's real estate development firms have barged into Cambodia with all the ambition, bumptiousness and verve that American fruit and tire firms employed in Latin America or Africa in decades past. One company, Union Development Group, of Tianjin in northern China, won a 99-year concession for 120 square miles - twice the size of Washington - of beachfront property on the Gulf of Thailand. There Chinese work teams are cutting a road and mapping out plans for hotels, villas and golf courses. The estimated investment? $3.8 billion. The target market? The nouveau riche from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Last month, China pledged to support the construction of a $600 million stretch of railway between Phnom Penh and Vietnam that will bring China a major step closer to incorporating all of Southeast Asia, as far south as Singapore, into its rail network.[Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

Andrew R. C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul of Reuters reported: “The remote district of Rovieng was once a battleground between Cambodian government troops and Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge. There are still unexploded bombs in the fields and forests. But there is also something more desirable: iron ore. And two Chinese companies have an $11 billion plan to extract it. Their proposal — which calls for construction of a steel plant and seaport to be linked by a new 400-kilometer, or 250-mile, railroad — has alarmed environmentalists, perplexed mining and transportation experts and bolstered Cambodia’s reputation as an agent for Chinese expansionism in a region. [Source: Andrew R. C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, February 14, 2013 <>]

“The Rovieng plan is the latest in a series of large projects that underscore China’s growing economic clout in Southeast Asia, while at the same time improving China’s access to ports and supplies of raw materials in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Work will soon begin on a $7 billion railroad through Laos to link Yunnan Province in southwest China with northeast Thailand. In Myanmar, work is almost finished on a $3 billion twin pipeline project to carry oil and natural gas to Yunnan from the Bay of Bengal. <>

“The railroad, port and steel plant project in Cambodia will be the country’s largest, with a price tag not far from the $12.9 billion value of its annual gross domestic product. The steel plant in Rovieng, in northern Cambodia, will be the country’s first. The seaport, on an island in the Gulf of Thailand, will be connected to the mainland by a three-kilometer bridge. The railroad will cross a large part of Cambodia, although its exact route has not been disclosed. “This is 65 percent iron,” said Sun Qicai, caressing a heavy, gleaming lump of Rovieng rock. “Not many places have such high-quality ore.” That includes China, the world’s largest steel maker, where most ore has an iron content of less than 40 percent. <>

“Mr. Sun is a Chinese site manager for Cambodia Iron & Steel Mining Industry Group, a Chinese company based in Phnom Penh that on Dec. 31 signed a deal to build the three-part project with China Major Bridge Engineering, a subsidiary of China Railway Group, a state-owned behemoth. The iron ore is destined for the steel plant — by law, ore cannot be exported from Cambodia. Mining experts would not hazard a guess on how much ore is recoverable in Rovieng and there was no indication of how much steel it would produce and where the products would go. <>

“Those are just some of the unanswered questions about the project. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Zhang Chuanyou, the general manager of Cambodia Iron & Steel, said work would begin in July and be finished within four years. But Tram Iv Tek, the Cambodian transportation minister, who also attended the ceremony, professed to know almost nothing about the project. The conspicuous absence of the authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen, from the ceremony also left many wondering whether the plan was going anywhere. “There are a lot of real things happening here with Chinese money,” said Daniel Mitchell, an American who runs the Phnom Penh investment firm SRP International. “I don’t think this railroad is one of them.” Mining experts question whether northern Cambodia has enough mineral wealth to justify the project’s costs. Transportation experts wonder why the Chinese-built railroad would not connect with Cambodia’s existing train system, which is being refurbished at a cost of $141.6 million, or link with either of the country’s two established ports. <>

“Cambodia Iron & Steel looks neither like a billion-dollar company nor, as reports in the Chinese news media describe it, a Cambodian one. It is registered to three Chinese nationals who, according to Mr. Sun, the Rovieng site manager, are brothers. The only Cambodian found working at its Phnom Penh headquarters, a five-story building flanked by a paint shop and a Korean restaurant, was the cleaner. There was some evidence suggesting that Cambodia Iron & Steel was moving ahead with its project and that Cambodian officials knew more than they publicly stated. <>

“With the help of local people, Reuters reporters entered the Cambodia Iron & Steel site and found no sign of construction. Trucks and other heavy machinery were idle. Lumps of iron ore littered the deserted access roads. The Cambodia Iron & Steel depot in the village occupies what used to be community ground: the local soccer field. The depot also was dormant. A villager who had befriended its few Chinese workers said they had complained of being broke, bored and homesick. <>

China's Hydroelectric Projects and Its Influence in Cambodia

Reporting from Koh Kong, Cambodia John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “Down a blood-red dirt track deep in the jungles of southwestern Cambodia, the roar begins. Turn a corner and there is the source - scores of dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes hacking away at the earth. Above a massive hole, a flag flaps in the hot, dusty breeze. The flag of the People's Republic of China. Here in the depths of the Cardamom Mountains, where the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communists made their last stand in the late 1970s, China is asserting its rights as a resurgent imperial power in Asia. Instead of exporting revolution and bloodshed to its neighbors, China is now sending its cash and its people. At this clangorous hydropower dam site hard along Cambodia's border with Thailand, and in Burma, Laos and even Vietnam, China is engaged in a massive push to extend its economic and political influence into Southeast Asia. Spreading investment and aid along with political pressure, China is transforming a huge swath of territory along its southern border. Call it the Monroe Doctrine, Chinese style. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

Across Cambodia, dozens of state-run Chinese companies are building eight hydropower dams, including the 246-megawatt behemoth on the Tatay River in Koh Kong. The total price tag for those dams will exceed $1 billion. Altogether, Cambodia owes China $4 billion, said Cheam Yeap, a member of the central committee of the ruling Cambodia People's Party. "This takeover is inevitable," said Lak Chee Meng, the senior reporter on the Cambodia Sin Chew Daily, one of the country's four Chinese-language dailies, serving a population of 300,000 Chinese-speaking Khmer-Chinese and an additional quarter-million immigrants and businessmen from mainland China. "Cambodia is approaching China with open arms. It's how the United States took over its neighborhood. It's geopolitics."

The perennial question about China's rise is when will Beijing be able to translate its cash into power. In Cambodia, it already has. Cambodia has avoided criticizing Beijing over the dams China is building along China's stretch of the Mekong River - installations that experts predict will upend the lives of millions of Cambodians who live off the fishing economy around the great inland waterway, Tonle Sap. Cambodia so strictly follows Beijing's "one China" policy that it has refused Taiwan's request to open up an economic office here despite the many millions of dollars' worth of Taiwanese investment in Cambodia.

China’s Obstacles in Cambodia

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “China's road to domination here hasn't been without potholes. Vietnam, which ousted the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and installed Hun Sen, has woken up to the threat of increased Chinese influence and has directed Vietnamese state-owned companies to pour money into Cambodia. From $28 million in 2008, Vietnamese investment jumped to $268 million in 2009 and to $1.2 billion this year, according to Cambodian government statistics. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

The Vietnamese military runs Cambodia's No. 2 - and soon to be No. 1 - telecommunications company. Most government officials use its services because it gives them SIM cards loaded with free minutes. But China is quick to counter Vietnam. Chinese and Cambodian officials this month signed a $591 million loan package - Cambodia's biggest ever - from the Bank of China for Cambodia's other main telecommunications company. The only catch is that $500 million was earmarked to buy Chinese equipment from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Even Cambodia's ruler, Hun Sen, has sometimes chafed at the bearhug from Beijing. In December 2009, Chinese workers finished a massive $30 million government building where the prime minister was supposed to house his offices. But Hun Sen didn't like the place, complained about its squat toilets and the fact that "it didn't even have a proper chandelier," according to a Western diplomat. There were also concerns that China had bugged the premises. So Hun Sen built new offices next door and opened both buildings last month.

Problems with Chinese Investment in Cambodia

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “China professes a policy of never interfering in the internal affairs of foreign lands. But in Cambodia, growing public fury over land grabs to make way for development projects involving Chinese investors has pushed Beijing to the center of one of this Southeast Asian nation’s most sensitive social and political issues. “I had hoped that Chinese companies would help bring prosperity and development, but instead they brought only problems,” said Tep Vanny, who has helped spearhead a long campaign against forced evictions in the capital. The campaign has been surprisingly effective, mobilizing a wide array of people against the Boeung Kak Lake project, which is now at a standstill. It is unclear why construction has been halted and when it will resume. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post September 25, 2012 /\]

“But the partnership has also stirred widespread public anger as Chinese investment has helped push hundreds of thousands from their homes. In the southwest of the country, a real estate company from Tianjin is building a casino and resort complex on what was supposed to be protected forestland. At the other end of Cambodia, Chinese investors have been given rights to mine for gold and develop plantations. In all, according to data collected by human rights activists in a survey of just half the country, about 420,000 Cambodians have been affected by evictions since 2003, many of them in relation to China-funded ventures. /\

“Chinese companies, said Pung Chhiv Kek, president of Licadho, a group of human rights and social activists, “should be more cautious” and examine the consequences of their investments. Instead, she said, they often take the view that “they don’t have to care about people’s rights in China, so why should they care here?”Government spokesman Phay Siphan blamed the public outcry over evictions on opposition politicians and said Cambodia, a small, poor nation with about 15 million people, has to develop its land in order to boost living standards. /\

China and the Boeung Kak Lake Project

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “Of all the Cambodian controversies involving China, however, none has stirred as much public outrage as the development of Boeung Kak Lake, which had been one of Phnom Penh’s most cherished urban landmarks. Though badly polluted after decades of neglect, it still attracted throngs of people to its waterfront pathways, cafes and guesthouses.Today, the area is an eyesore — and an emblem of the damage wrought by Cambodia’s China-assisted dash for development. “The policy of the government is to cut poverty, but all these evictions only make people homeless and poor,” said Pung Chhiv Kek of Licadho. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post September 25, 2012 /\]

“Under the terms of a 99-year lease granted in Feb 2007 by Phnom Penh Municipality, a Cambodian company called Shukaku gained the right to turn the lake and a swath of surrounding land into a new residential and business district. Shukaku agreed to pay $79 million for 328 acres of prime real estate, far less than the market value of such a large piece of land in the center of the capital. /\

“The company is controlled by Lao Meng Khin, a wealthy senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and a close ally of Cambodia’s long-serving leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen. Shukaku executives declined to be interviewed. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Boeung Kak Lake had been a smelly health hazard and needed to be turned into “a developed place.” After two false starts with Chinese companies, Shukaku’s effort now has the backing of Inner Mongolia Ordos Hong Jun Investment Corp., a joint venture between two Chinese entities. /\

“While workers moved in to drain the lake and pump in sand in 2008, armed police stood guard as most of the area’s more than 4,000 families — who were offered either land outside the city or modest cash payments — were ordered to leave. But hundreds of other residents, including Tep Vanny, refused to budge and began organizing protests. They also started writing letters to the Chinese Embassy. All went unanswered. But, in an interview with a state-owned Chinese newspaper, the embassy’s commercial attache, Jin Yuan, defended Chinese investors, saying they had played no role in evictions, which he said were solely the work of local authorities. /\

“After repeated clashes between residents and police, the World Bank announced in August 2011 that it would suspend lending to Cambodia until authorities halted the evictions and agreed to fair compensation. Stung by the mounting criticism, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that part of the area leased to Shukaku be registered as the property of more than 700 families still living in the area. But protests continued, and authorities cracked down hard. In May of this year, Tep Vanny and a dozen other women were arrested during a rally near a cluster of demolished homes and sentenced to 21/2 years in prison for “illegally occupying public land.” /\

“The stiff sentences drew widespread condemnation and a plea for the women’s release from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Cambodia’s Appeal Court overturned the jail sentences. The crackdown, however, has since resumed, with two anti-eviction activists arrested early this month.

The future of the project, meanwhile, is mired in uncertainty. A high concrete wall has been erected around the sand-filled lake, but there is no sign of construction work. The sand is too soft to build on and could take up to a decade to settle sufficiently. Residents complain that draining of the lake has caused flooding during the rainy season and led to sewage leaking. Liu Xueming, an official with Ordos Hong Jun Investment in Phnom Penh, said he couldn’t discuss plans for the vanished lake. “This project is a little bit sensitive,” he said. /\

Chinese and Chinese- Cambodian Investors in Cambodia

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “Huo Zhaoguo, a Chinese manager of Union Development's massive project along the Cambodian coast, is typical of the new Chinese coming to this country. In the 1980s in Lanzhou in northwestern China, Huo struck it rich selling beans but then lost his fortune. He washed up in Cambodia in the 1990s, chasing a Vietnamese dealer who owed him money. Huo returned to Lanzhou penniless but couldn't stay. "I'd been rich there once and so everybody laughed at me," he said. "A man needs self-respect." [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

“Huo moved back to Cambodia and opened a noodle stand. He moved up to a noodle restaurant and then met the boss of Union Development, who came to his shop searching for northern Chinese food. The boss gave Huo a chance at Union, and now Huo is overseeing road construction. Union got the land because it had the cash and the connections, Huo said. This country is too poor and the corruption is the same as China," he observed. "If you have power here, you have a great future." Cambodians feel no pressure to succeed. They even take weekends off. Not us," he said, with the air of colonial supremacy you hear from many Chinese in Cambodia. "We work." ><

Don Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, ““Pung Kheav Se, who is ethnic Chinese and was born in Cambodia, is the founder of Canadia Bank, which holds one-fourth of the nation's bank deposits. He fled the country in the late 1970s and made a fortune trading gold bars in Montreal before returning to Phnom Penh in 1991. Pung said China Development Bank officials recently paid him a visit to discuss aid to Cambodia. "I see a lot of change for the better," he said.[Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006 ^^]

China and the United States Vie for Influence in Cambodia

John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “Ignored by successive U.S. administrations, China's rise in this region is now causing alarm in Washington, which is aggressively courting the countries of Southeast Asia. The Obama administration has cultivated closer ties with its old foe Vietnam. It has tried to open doors to Burma, also known as Myanmar, which U.S. officials believe is in danger of becoming a Chinese vassal state. Relations have been renewed with Laos, whose northern half is dominated by Chinese businesses. In a speech about U.S. policy in Asia on Oct. 28, before she embarked on her sixth trip to Asia in two years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used military terminology to refer to U.S. efforts: "forward-deployed diplomacy." During a recent trip to Phnom Penh - the first of a U.S. secretary of state since 2002 - Clinton, while speaking to Cambodian students, was asked about Cambodia's ties to Beijing. "You don't want to get too dependent on any one country," she told them. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

“China's heft was also clearly on display in December when Chinese and American diplomats went toe-to-toe over the fate of 20 Uighur Chinese who had fled to Cambodia and were seeking asylum. China said that some of the men, members of a Chinese Turkic minority, were wanted for having participated in anti-Han Chinese riots in Xinjiang in July 2009. The United States said don't send them back. China threatened to cancel a trip by its vice president, Xi Junping, who was coming to Cambodia with deals and loans worth $1.2 billion in his briefcase. So Cambodia returned the Uighurs to China. Two days later Xi, who is on track to be China's next leader, arrived in Phnom Penh. In April of this year, the U.S. State Department announced that to punish Cambodia, it was canceling a shipment of 200 U.S. surplus military trucks and trailers. Less than three weeks later, China donated 257 military trucks.

Cambodia has also followed China's lead when it comes to the South China Sea, a 1 million-square-mile waterway that China asserts belongs to Beijing. In July, Clinton, speaking in Hanoi, challenged China's claims to the open seas and advocated a multilateral approach to divvying up the fishing rights and offshore oil and gas that the sea is believed to contain. China opposes multilateral negotiations, preferring to divide and conquer with bilateral talks. Last month, Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, backed China's approach. China's one-upmanship with the United States continued. A day after Clinton left Cambodia, Wu Bangguo, one of China's top Communist Party officials, arrived in Phnom Penh. During her visit, Clinton had raised the possibility that the United States might forgive a portion of Cambodia's debt to the United States; it owes $445 million. Wu was more forthright. He struck $4.5 million off Cambodia's tab; Chinese officials are considering forgiving an additional $200 million.

“For U.S. strategists, if you neglect certain ASEAN countries, you hurt U.S. interests,” the American scholar Carlyle Thayer, an Asia-Pacific security expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, told Reuters. “There’s a price to pay,” he added, “because China’s economic dominance carries political influence, the U.S. has to compete across the board.” [Source: Andrew R. C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, February 14, 2013 <>]

Cham Prasidh, the commerce minister, told the Los Angeles Times: If the United States has lost economic influence in Cambodia to China, Americans have only themselves to blame. "The investors from the U.S. say they want more transparency. They don't understand the Asian mentality; they are not flexible in negotiating," he said. "The Chinese feel very much at home in Cambodia." [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006 ^^]

Uighurs Deported from Cambodia and Sent to Prison in China

In December 2009, “At least 20 Uighurs who fled China after deadly ethnic violence earlier this year have been deported from Cambodia, a government official has said. Khieu Sopheak, a Cambodian interior ministry spokesman, said the group had been put on a plane, sent from China, that left Phnom Penh International Airport. "They are going back to China," he said. Koy Kuong, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the Uighurs had entered the country illegally. "The Cambodian government is implementing its immigration law. They came to Cambodia illegally without any passports or visas, so we consider them illegal immigrants," he said. [Source: Al-Jazeera, December 19, 2009 #].

“The Uighurs had applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee office, after fleeing riots that killed about 200 people in southern China in July. The UN had urged Cambodia to stop the deportation. A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency said it had not finished evaluating the Uighurs, including two children, for refugee status. "It is hugely concerning that Cambodian authorities are not giving this group an opportunity to seek asylum, or for authorities to assess their asylum case," Brittis Edman, a Cambodia researcher with Amnesty International, said, before the expulsion. "This group will be particularly vulnerable to torture. Because of those concerns, Cambodia shouldn't send them back." Cambodia has been under pressure from China, which has called the Uighurs "criminals" after they fled the country Uighurs say Beijing has long restricted their rights, particularly clamping down on their practise of Islam. #

A few days later Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “China signed 14 deals with Cambodia on Monday worth approximately $1 billion, two days after Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers under strong pressure from Beijing. The exact value of the agreements was not announced, but the chief government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said they were worth $1.2 billion. “China has thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back these people,” he said. “According to Chinese law, these people are criminals.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 21, 2009 ++]

Before being deported, several of the asylum seekers told the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Cambodia that they feared long jail terms or even the death penalty, according to statements reported by The Associated Press. In the statements, which had been provided to the United Nations in support of asylum applications, the Uighurs described chaotic and bloody scenes during the rioting. “If I am returned to China, I am sure that I will be sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty for my involvement in the Urumqi riots,” said a 29-year-old man. Another man, a 27-year-old teacher, said: “I can tell the world what is happening to Uighur people, and the Chinese authorities do not want this. If returned, I am certain I would be sent to prison.” ++

In January 2012, Reuters reported: “China has jailed two Muslim Uighurs deported from Cambodia for life, Radio Free Asia reported. The U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia broadcast and online news service cited family sources and local authorities in Xinjiang who in turn quoted jail notices they had seen. It was unclear when the sentences were handed down or what the men had been charged with.[Source: Reuters, January 27, 2012 ==]

The two Uighurs were among a group of about 20 who had sought asylum in Cambodia following ethic riots between Uighurs and majority Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi in July 2009. Another of the group was jailed for 17 years, Radio Free Asia said, adding that the jail terms of the others were not known because court proceedings were held in secret. "The imprisonment of these men, who were forcefully deported from a place of refuge, should serve as a wake-up call to the world about the brutal treatment awaiting Uighur asylum seekers who are sent back to China," Uighur American Association president Alim Seytoff said in a statement posted on the advocacy group's website. Radio Free Asia, citing rights groups, said the asylum-seekers had fled persecution because they had witnessed Chinese security forces arresting and using lethal force against Uighur demonstrators during the riots that killed nearly 200 people, many of them Han Chinese. ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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