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Open Letter: Spare Cambodia from Great Power politics in 21st century

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The baseless allegation of the possible militarisation of the commercial port in Sihanoukville was debunked thanks to efforts by the Cambodia government to clarify the fundamental principles of its foreign policy. Heng Chivoan

Open Letter: Spare Cambodia from Great Power politics in 21st century

The unfortunate speculation that China is building a military base in Cambodian territory is guided by only by ill-intended and misinformed plethora without any evidence.

It is utterly a smear campaign against the national interests of Cambodians and the hard-earned peace and development the national government has been fighting for its people.

This groundless speculation is not new and has been used to harm the reputation and jeopardise national unity.

In 2005, the “String of Pearls” theory was promoted to refer to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to the Horn of Africa.

The sea lines run through several major maritime choke points, such as the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz and the Lombok Strait, as well as other strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Somalia.

Cambodia’s Sihanoukville port was also included in China’s so-called String of Pearls strategy.

In early 2016, concerted efforts were built to spread the misleading narrative about the possible militarisation of the commercial port in Sihanoukville.

It was perhaps due to the establishment of a Chinese Special Economic Zone and the influx of Chinese investors and tourists in the coastal city.

However, this baseless allegation has been debunked thanks to efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia to clarify the fundamental principles of its foreign policy, one of which denounces military bases of foreign power in Cambodia.

The fact is that Phnom Penh offered the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to take a 13.5 per cent equity stake in Cambodia’s Port Authority Sihanoukville (PAS) in June 2017.

As a major stakeholder, JICA is playing an important role in managing Cambodia’s largest and only deep-sea port that Japan has helped develop since 1999.

Recently, the focus of the same, largely damaging, smear campaign by foreign powers has been shifted from the city of Sihanoukville to another Cambodian coastal city.

Some foreign policymakers, scholars and media outlets have claimed that Phnom Penh and Beijing have signed a “secret agreement” to build a Chinese military base in Cambodia, first in Koh Kong and later on Koh Ream.

Neither Cambodia nor China has ever had any intention to violate its international obligations to maintain world peace and international security, and they have respected the national sovereignty and integrity of all nations.

I sense that the list of the alleged locations of Chinese military bases will continue to be expanded by the alleging countries once the allegation is nullified.

Moreover, the alleged “secret agreement” was referred to due to the simple reason that it is non-existent.

An inconvenient truth is that Cambodia has increasingly become a punching bag in the Great Power rivalry.

Some foreign diplomats in Phnom Penh have reiterated without any respect for Cambodian sovereignty and diplomatic etiquette that “Cambodia has been perceived as a Southeast Asian state that is under China’s control, economically and politically. They will use Cambodia only as an example for other countries that China’s excessive control and dominant influence is not acceptable, which must be met by a punishment, rather than a reward”.

Therefore, one can argue that groundless accusations of a Chinese military base in Cambodia and the manipulation of political pressure and economic sanctions by some great powers against the legitimate government in Cambodia are pretexts to force Cambodia to serve their geopolitical interests in Asia.

With her history of being colonised and victimised by foreign interventions, Cambodia has never taken for granted her sovereignty and independence.

Cambodian people will never allow any foreign powers to dominate and dictate their will over them.

Cambodia wishes to a friend to every country based on the unchanging principles of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty, non-interference into domestic affairs and win-win cooperation.

All in all, the intensification of speculation about a Chinese military base in Cambodia serves the interest of no one.

In addition to putting Cambodia’s peace and prosperity at acute risk, the groundless speculation will only jeopardise the good bilateral relations we have been advanced.

Furthermore, it will encourage other great powers to intensify their competition for military bases in the region.

As has been observed, Russia and the US have long eyed Cam Ranh in Vietnam as a strategic asset.

If it were to unfold, the whole Mekong region could be militarised and easily be plunged into a strategic war zone of power rivalries.

Cambodia welcomes foreign investments from everywhere. Economically, it has benefited from its liberal trade and investment policies.

Cambodia should not be blamed for receiving Chinese or Japanese investment, for the investments have been crucial for job creation, poverty alleviation and economic development.

If Cambodia is punished for China’s increasing economic power and engagement, almost all countries in the developing world which have received investments from China would then be punished as well.

However, Cambodia never wishes to see such a punishment on any economy for its reception of investments.

The entire population of Cambodia only wishes to enjoy hard-fought peace, political stability and economic development.

They only wish to uphold our prevailing Constitution, which clearly states that Cambodia shall adopt the foreign policy of permanent neutrality and non-alignment, and that Cambodia shall not authorise any foreign military base on her territory, nor have her own military bases abroad, except within the framework of a UN request.

I insist that foreign governments should never ever again drag this war-torn nation into the global realpolitik.

The Cambodian people have suffered excessively, more than enough, as victims of the global power rivalry of the Cold War.

We are peace-lovers and peace-builders. As a developing nation, we always abide by national and international laws.

Please spare Cambodia from the Great Power politics in the 21st century and allow her to prosper as she deserves.

HE Suos Yara is a Member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

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