Traveling in the Kingdom of Cambodia, one is constantly reminded of the infamous past of the Khmer Rouge and it’s leader Pol Pot’s reign. The country has built many museums and monuments in remembrance with the adage ‘never again’. This is what makes the current Hun Sen dictatorship so confusing, horrifying and tragic to watch unfold.
The recent decision of the Cambodian Supreme Court to dissolve the countries main opposition party The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). Has left the current government with no significant competitor ahead of next year’s general election.
The international backlash to this decision has been strong and swift, with the US deciding to withdraw $1.8million in funding from the countries National Election Committee. Australia however, has been much more reserved with our condemnation and more importantly with our aid funds. This is most likely due to a $55million resettlement deal for refuges to transfer from Nauru to Cambodia, which the government is desperate to go through.
Although none of this has seemed to phase the world’s longest serving prime minister, whom once relied heavily on the flow of foreign aid and investment dollars. On the contrary, Hun Sen is now doubling down on his anti-US rhetoric and is almost baiting it’s once ally to pull its foreign aid entirely. To the point of even unleashing a flood anti-US conspiracies, accusing Washington of planning to overthrow his government and claiming the leader of the recently disbarred CNRP, Kem Sokha, a US agent.
Many have noted that this sudden anti-American rhetoric is to have been fostered from increasingly stronger ties between China and Cambodia. With China now becoming the countries largest donor and supporter of the Hun Sen regime. High level Cambodian officials recently completed a Beijing trip to meet with China’s President Xi Jingping and to discuss aid and investment between the two states, with a particular focus on creating jobs in Cambodia through Chinese investment.
Cambodia however is only a micro example in the otherwise macro Chinese influence occurring across all of South East Asia. Both the US and China both now the world’s leading superpowers have been battling for dominance in the region. With China making strong headway predominantly through writing large checks for major infrastructure projects that have China as the future main benefactor.
This has been likened to the Marshall Plan, the 1948 Harry Truman initiative that rebuilt post-war Western Europe and shaped the global economic landscape for America’s benefit for almost half a century.
Take battling superpowers away and all of this may sound like a boon for your average Cambodian in the street, yet when approaching and discussing such matters many reflect a trickle down economic sentiment.
With increasing levels of corruption occurring in both the military and the political elite, along with an entrenched class system. I hope that if I visit Cambodia again in another 20 years I won’t be reading a freshly painted sign stating ‘never again’.