Tension Between Cambodia And U.S. Is Rising

The tension between Cambodia and the U.S. is rising recently, which began from the Cambodian banishment of the U.S.-backed NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI) three weeks ago. Moreover, the tension expanded last week, as the Cambodian government accused the main opposition party leader, Kem Sokha’s conspiracy with the U.S. government, which caused boycotting by the opposition party and condemnation by the U.S.

According to Reuters, as a response to the boycott by opposition party’s to a parliamentary vote to support for their leader Kem Sokha, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen threatened to ban the opposition party on Monday, September 11th, 2017, “if the political party continues to blockade and defend this traitor, it means the party is also a traitor so there is no time to let this party operate in Cambodia’s democratic process anymore.”

This Tuesday, the U.S. Washington’s ambassador to Cambodia rejected Cambodian government accusations of U.S. and advocated for the release of Kem Sokha. Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh issued a security message to U.S. citizens on Wednesday: “…to alert U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Cambodia that recent developments, including the arrest of a political figure, the expulsion of an American NGO and its foreign staff, and anti-American rhetoric by officials, may raise the overall tensions in the country…avoid large crowds and immediately leave any area where crowds are gathering. You should remain alert to local security developments by monitoring local news reports, be vigilant regarding your personal security and preparedness, be aware of your surroundings, and plan your activities accordingly.” Moreover, on the same day, according to Business Insider, the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia stopped issuing visas to senior Cambodian foreign ministry officials and their families: “The Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the country in question has accepted the individuals.”

In order to respond to U.S. “punishment,” Cambodia suspended the collaboration with the U.S. to search Vietnam War soldiers’ remains this Thursday and asked the U.S. to withdraw Peace Corp’s volunteers (a U.S. government-run organization that sends American volunteers abroad to promote mutual cultural understanding). Furthering, according to Reuters, Hun Sen claimed that “the search cooperation is postponed until a number of issues are resolved between Cambodia and the United States.”

To resist the pressure from the U.S. and other Western countries, Hun Sen sought for support from the Chinese Communists’ Party on his visit for the 14th China-ASEAN Expo in Guangxi province earlier this week. According to Khmer Times, the head of the Communist Party of China’s international department, Song Tao expressed Chinese government’s support, “Our [Cambodia and China] brotherly ties are strong and no foreign force can divide them…As our brother, if Cambodia faces difficulties, it can ask its Chinese friends for help and we will not look away.”

The tension between Cambodia and U.S. was generated in the past couples of weeks due to the Cambodian banishment of U.S. NGO, the shutdown of independent media, the arrest of Kem Sokha without convincing evidence, threat to ban opposition party, and aggressive diplomatic responses to the U.S. government. Hun Sen’s purpose is obvious; to win the political election unfairly next year and to maintain his governance with lasting political oppression. Though international community should continue their condemning on Hun Sen and his Cambodian government, due to Cambodian intimate tie with China and urgent need for China to intervene with the North Korean crisis by Western countries, the Cambodian political oppression is difficult to shift in the short term.