Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered his country’s military to destroy all US-made weapons or bring them to warehouses. The reason for this harsh reaction by the Cambodian leader is the provocative actions and further threats of sanctions by the US authorities.
The White House has decided to punish Cambodia for daring to build its country’s military with Chinese support. What makes Washington angry is not so much the fact that the port of Ream in southern Cambodia is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, but rather the belief that the Chinese are building a new naval base on site recently built with American funding became what Cambodian officials vehemently deny.
Despite this denial, Washington has imposed a number of sanctions on Cambodia, including an embargo on the supply of American arms and military equipment.
Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page: “The US arms embargo is a warning to the next generation of Cambodian citizens, to those responsible in the government. If you want your own independent defense bloc, don’t use American weapons. “
According to some sources, the Cambodian head of state dreams that one day his eldest son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, will succeed him. Manet is currently Deputy Commander in Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Hun Sen believes that he is a future Prime Minister. If the US continues its sanctions against Cambodia, the division between the two countries could become a generational issue.
In modern international law, only sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are recognized. Unilateral sanctions such as those imposed by the USA on a large number of countries are illegal under international law, as countries like Russia and China point out time and again. In this sense, the US sanctions against Cambodia were unilateral and therefore illegal.
Nonetheless, Cambodia, like other countries, has the option of buying weapons elsewhere, and so the embargo is unlikely to affect the impoverished Southeast Asian country in much. It is worth remembering that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the Southeast Asian region and does not source large arms like modern frigates or fourth / fifth generation fighter jets. Hence, Cambodia’s military needs are modest and can easily be met by other countries.
The Southeast Asian countries are a preferred destination for Russian, Chinese, Israeli, and French military suppliers. The US has lost its monopoly on a wide variety of products in the region, and it seems Americans are having a hard time recognizing this bitter truth.
As is well known, the US refused to deliver weapons to the Philippines in 2016, citing human rights violations in the country. It was then that the Philippine President asked China and Russia for help, and his country received new weapons. However, it seems once again that despite a new administration, the US has not learned its lesson that countries will simply switch to a different supplier if they can only source new military equipment under conditions that dictate their domestic and foreign policies.
Cambodia is a small state in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but took over the bloc chairmanship from Brunei last week. On December 6th, Hun Sen stated that Myanmar, as a member of the ASEAN family, should have the right to attend the association’s forum. He also announced that he would meet with the ruler of Myanmar, General Min Aung Hlaing, saying, “If I do not work with the leader, who can I work with?”
While the Cambodian ASEAN Presidency is unlikely to see a substantial breakthrough in overcoming the Myanmar crisis, Phnom Penh is more willing and able than Brunei to coordinate action on Myanmar, especially since it is not Prerequisites for a meeting with General Hlaing, as the Bruneians did.
Last week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a trip to Malaysia that Washington intends to impose further sanctions on the military leadership of Myanmar. Blinken did not rule out that the actions of the Myanmar military against citizens could be viewed as genocide. At the same time, Washington recently announced further sanctions against organizations and individuals associated with the Myanmar military.
With Cambodia holding the ASEAN presidency for the next term and having ambitions to resolve the Myanmar crisis, this will certainly add to another point of tension with Washington. The US is trying to break Chinese influence across Southeast Asia and this has directly created tension with Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar.
This suggests that the problems between Washington and Phnom Penh are not going to subside anytime soon. Rather, relations will deteriorate further due to the US arms embargoes and Cambodia’s intention to reconcile Myanmar and ASEAN, especially as Cambodia continues to expand its relations with China without further ado.