The stream of stories swirling around allegations of a deal that would allow for a Chinese military presence on Cambodian territory, is an example of what Washington has become: a Möbius maelstrom that lives by and decries that which it invented: “fake news.”
U.S. government operatives provided several American news outlets with “information” to the effect that something was afoot between Phnom Penh and Beijing. Hearsay, trial balloons, groundless chatter. Reporters reveled in their “exclusive” and wasted little time in quoting their “unnamed sources” (usually code for: “sources that you will not name if you want to stay on the mailing list”).
If this volley of folly revolved around a philandering head of state, or the misadventures of an entertainer (same thing?), it would soon be forgotten. Unfortunately, that which has the potential to compromise a country’s sovereignty and threaten bilateral relations is a very serious matter.
In 2018, a Washington non-profit think-tank called “C4ADS”, which deals in “conflict zones and fragile states”, published a report entitled: ‘’Harbored Ambitions. How China’s Port Investments are Strategically Reshaping the Indo-Pacific’’. Cambodia is graced with its own section in the report, which examines China’s interests in the Kingdom’s economy, notably in Koh Kong Province (The Cambodia-China Comprehensive Investment and Pilot Zone).
Without providing any credentials, the report quotes one Geoff Wade, from Australian National University: “(Wade) alleges that Koh Kong (New Port) will be large enough to potentially host China’s frigates and destroyers, though there is no concrete indication that China plans to establish a base in Koh Kong or use the proposed port as a place of forward deployment. Still, the Pilot Zone’s planned hospitals and recreational areas could theoretically host People’s Liberation Army Navy crews on patrol in the Gulf of Thailand and on the eastern side of the Malacca Strait. Its proposed future industrial capacity could also theoretically provide logistical support to Chinese warships in line with strategies proposed by China’s analysts.”
Theoretically. Allegedly. It would appear this conjecture is the basis for a “news story” that has once again placed Cambodia in the middle of an escalating conflict: Washington vs. Beijing. Wrote The Wall Street Journal (on July the 22nd, 2019): “Some U.S. officials and analysts believe the U.S. wielded too many sticks in its relationship with Cambodia, frequently criticizing the government’s human-rights (sic) record and didn’t offer enough carrots”.
Is the United States determined to make Cambodia a battle ground for geopolitical sphere of influence in the same manner as Sri Lanka? A theory is already circulating that the United States is looking at Sri Lanka for its own ‘Harbored Ambition”to host a military base in an attempt to knock heads with China for influence in the Indo Pacific region. One wonders at yet another conjecture.
Conjecture and condescension as a “stick”. Nothing new there. The article continues: “A senior Pentagon official said the U.S. wanted Cambodia to be a “preferred security partner,” but other officials said it appeared Phnom Penh had turned toward Beijing.
A nation cannot choose its neighbours but can choose on a dependable friend. A friend who has come to the aid of a Cambodia which is in need of billions for infrastructure development.
Cambodian officials have been making every effort to bolster their assertion that there are no plans to permit any foreign power to make use of our territory for military purposes. Be it in Koh Kong, or when the fire storm over Koh Kong soon lost interest and did not gain much of a traction, the United States turned to yet another port, this time a naval port at Ream, Sihanoukville with the same assertions.
They needn’t. In an age where satellites and other surveillance systems can trace the movements of objects the size of gnat, it is laughable to suggest that one nation or another could act with impunity. The burden of proof is on those who made the accusations.
The assertion that Cambodia should be in the group which is subjected to “do as I say but not as I do” is antiquated and flawed with innuendoes, sources and misinformation.
On the Cambodian front, the silence arising from the absence of a joint statement from Phnom Penh and Beijing is deafening. The joint statement will put these conjectures, based on nothing more than a theory, to rest once and for all and allow us to concentrate on building a nation.