Saturday, March 18, 2017

The 'Chinazation' of Cambodia
March 16, 2017 10:00 am JST

China's deepening economic presence is bringing progress -- but at what cost?

KENJI KAWASE, Nikkei deputy editor

HONG KONG/PHNOM PENH Just a few blocks from the Royal Palace, in the traditional heart of downtown Phnom Penh, sits one of Cambodia's most renowned Chinese schools. Over the past century, the Tuan Hoa School has witnessed the many ups and downs of the capital. Today, it has front-row seats to an unprecedented boom.
Run by a local ethnic Chinese organization, the school is one of the largest Mandarin-speaking elementary and junior high schools outside China and Taiwan. It currently has more than 11,000 students, including those at its branch campus. For Loeung Sokmenh, headmaster of the main campus, things have improved to an astonishing degree. She has been a faculty member there since the school reopened in 1992 after being forced to close in 1970. Those intervening years saw the tumult that accompanied a U.S.-supported coup headed by Marshal Lon Nol, the devastating rule of the China-backed Pol Pot regime and the subsequent invasion by Vietnam.
"The good relationship between Cambodia and China is definitely helping," Loeung told the Nikkei Asian Review, recalling harder times 25 years ago, when the school reopened its doors with 1,700 students. "More and more local parents feel that learning Mandarin will help their kids find jobs." She added that "even parents with no Chinese background are sending their kids here, including government officials."
Chinese investment in Cambodia has created a lot of employment opportunities. The Council for the Development of Cambodia says China has been the biggest source of foreign direct investment since 2011, with the cumulative total during the period until early December reaching $4.9 billion. New buildings are going up seemingly everywhere, and the bulk are being funded with Chinese money.
One of the most notable projects is One Park, or Phnom Penh No. 1, as the commercial and residential complex is called in Chinese. Heading the undertaking is Graticity Real Estate Development, a lesser-known developer based in Beijing. The first phase is being built on 7.9 hectares of reclaimed land once covered by Boeung Kak Lake. The total cost of the project is unknown, but the construction fees alone will amount to $130 million, according to the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corp., who won the contract. Another 11.1 hectares of reclaimed land has been set aside for further development.
One of the sales staff for the property is a 23-year-old female graduate of Tuan Hoa. The woman, who requested anonymity, is a third-generation Chinese-Cambodian and said her Mandarin skills "helped me get this job," where she deals with supervisors and clients from China.
BRIDGES AND ROADS The changing skyline may draw the most attention, but Chinese investment in Cambodia goes far beyond real estate.
On March 6, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Xiong Bo sat on separate construction vehicles in Phnom Penh. The officials, along with about 600 locals, were at the groundbreaking ceremony for the western portion of the No. 2 ring road project. This scene has played out countless times across the country, with the prime minister and Chinese ambassador on hand to celebrate the completion of new roads, bridges and other projects supported by Beijing.
"Thanks for all the assistance," Hun Sen told a business delegation from China on Dec. 1. "I can say that fraternal friend China has helped build the longest road, approximately 1,500km long, and seven bridges totaling approximately 3,104 meters long," he said.
As bridges go, the New Chroy Changvar Bridge, completed in 2015 with a concessional loan from China, is packed with symbolism. The 719-meter bridge, which spans the Tonle Sap River in the capital, was built by the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corp. and runs alongside the Chroy Changvar Bridge, also called the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge, built with Japanese assistance in 1966 and rebuilt with Japanese donations in 1994. Tokyo used to be a major donor to Cambodia, but it now pales in comparison to Beijing. According to Moody's Investors Service, China has since 2012 surpassed all multilateral organizations combined and the European Union in annual aid to the Southeast Asian country.
China's presence in Cambodia's power industry is also growing. The official website of the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia states that Chinese companies provided around 80% of all the power generated in the country in 2016. The local Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which acts at the behest of Beijing, kicked off a two-week exhibit at the Royal University of Phnom Penh on Feb. 16 under the perfunctory title "achievements of electric power construction in Cambodia assisted by Chinese companies." The aim apparently was to show off China's economic muscle.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Cambodian Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem, who attended the event, thanked Beijing for investing about $2.4 billion in seven power plants over the past decade. Blackouts still happen, but they are less frequent now that the total electricity supply has surged from 180 megawatts in 2002 to over 2,000MW last year.
LET'S MAKE A DEAL The stepped-up Chinese business activity is in line with Beijing's overseas development initiative. "Make use of the successful visit by President Xi Jinping as a driving force," Ambassador Xiong said at the annual conference of the local chamber of commerce last November. He said companies should work to "deepen economic and trade relations" and "contribute proactively to solidify the economic basis of the full-fledged strategic alliance."

The ambassador was referring to Xi's first state visit to Phnom Penh last October. During the Chinese leader's two-day stay, 31 official documents were signed. The deals included debt waivers, a doubling of China's import quota for Cambodian rice, the removal of double taxation and nearly $2 billion in infrastructure building. Cambodia is considered a crucial part of Xi's pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Cash-strapped Cambodia, meanwhile, sees the plan as a way to build badly needed infrastructure.
Beijing also regards Cambodia as an indispensable part of its "string of pearls" maritime strategy connecting Hong Kong to Sudan via the Indian Ocean. Sihanoukville, the largest Cambodian seaport, is one of the pearls along the string.
Taking a cue from Beijing, Chinese companies are arriving in growing numbers. China Minsheng Investment Group led a delegation of over 100 companies to Cambodia in December. Its chairman, Dong Wenbiao, pledged to invest in an industrial park on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and set up an infrastructure fund worth several hundred million dollars.
On paper, the company is a private entity. But scratch the surface and the state connections appear. Its major shareholders include member companies of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. While the federation is a business organization, it receives guidance from the Unified Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, whose main role is to bring various sectors under the party's umbrella.
WARNING SIGNS Not all China-led projects are thriving, however.
In downtown Phnom Penh, the showroom-cum-sales office for the Sino Plaza, one of the largest Chinese development projects, suddenly closed without notice in the end of February.
Last January, a high-profile announcement boasted how the China Center -- as it is called in Chinese -- will consist of a hotel, condominium, commercial space and a theater, spread across over 13,000 sq. meters of land. The construction costs alone were billed as totaling $240 million.
The closure of the showroom sparked rumors that the project had run out of money or even gone bankrupt. Mary Thong-Lin, an administrative staff of the project's main developer, Natural Lucky Real Estate Development, dismissed such talk as "all groundless rumors and lies." Speaking with the Nikkei Asian Review on March 10, she said the building housing the showroom had a leaky roof and other problems and had to "go through repairs." The groundwork for the complex was indeed underway, eye-witnessed by the Nikkei Asian Review, though she hinted that the original grand opening date of August 2019 may be pushed back. She did not say why.
Problems persist at the One Park megaproject, as its land rights have been caught in a lasting dispute that has seen the authorities crack down violently on local protesters. There have been a series of arrests and even imprisonments.
On Feb. 23, Tep Vanny, a local community representative and land activist, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, as well as given heavy fines, for a protest she joined in 2013 to fight a forced eviction order from the Boeung Kak Lake area. Sixty-three local civil society groups issued a joint statement that day criticizing the police, parapolice and the military police for using violence to silence the former residents. The statement also condemned the court for handing down heavy sentences without credible evidence.

Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy at one of the statement's signatories -- the Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights -- said the authorities are "once again punishing Vanny for her activism to send a clear message to any who dare criticize the government that dissent is not tolerated in Cambodia."
What some see as an increasingly oppressive governance style is starting to alienate Western investors, a trend that only increases Cambodia's reliance on China.
A PRICE TO PAY But China is not offering Cambodia any free lunches. Along with a renewed emphasis on Beijing's economic support for Phnom Penh, the joint communique signed by Xi Jinping and Hun Sen published last October stated that they have agreed to "further enhance coordination and cooperation within various multilateral frameworks" and to maintain close, timely and effective communications on matters concerning their significant interests to "offer forceful support for each other."
In 2012, while serving as rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Cambodia prevented the foreign ministers from issuing a joint communique for the first time in the bloc's 45-year of history. The problem was due to wording over disputes in the South China Sea. Parroting China's stance, Cambodia insisted that those maritime problems were bilateral issues and therefore did not have a place in a joint statement.
Since then, China's influence on Cambodia has only grown stronger. More than ever, Beijing will expect the country to fall in line with its agenda.

Sok An, right-hand man of Cambodia’s Hun Sen, dies at 66

By Sopheng Cheang|AP March 15

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Sok An, a deputy prime minister of Cambodia who was one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s closest political and personal allies, died Wednesday at age 66.
A government statement said he died of an unspecified illness at a hospital in Beijing. He had been absent from public life for several months while he was widely understood to be undergoing medical treatment. He suffered from diabetes and other ailments.
Sok An was trusted with the sensitive task of negotiating with the United Nations to hold an internationally assisted tribunal to try leaders of the Khmer Rouge for genocide and other crimes, and overseeing Cambodia’s role in it.
Cambodia, by holding the trials, sought to placate Western aid donors essential to its economy while limiting any domestic fallout, since Hun Sen and some of his political allies had at one time belonged to the Khmer Rouge. Trials began in 2009 but so far have led to the convictions of just three defendants.
Sok An’s closeness to Hun Sen was underlined by the marriage of one of his sons, Sok Puthyvuth , to one of the prime minister’s daughters, Hun Mali. Another son, Sok Soken, is married to the daughter of Industry Minister Cham Prasidh, and late last year was appointed an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hun Sen has served as Cambodia’s leader since 1985.
On Monday, King Norodom Sihamoni granted Sok An the relatively exclusive royal title of “samdech” — loosely translated as “lord” — for “protecting democracy, building up national peace and ensuring social stability.” Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, and other senior ruling party members also hold the honorific title. The bestowal of the title, presumably at Hun Sen’s request, came as rumors circulated that Sok An was near death.
In 1990, Sok An became vice minister of foreign affairs and vice minister of the interior. He was appointed to the Central Committee of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party in 1992, and became deputy prime minister in 1998.
Unlike other senior members of the Cambodian People’s Party, Sok An never was seen as a possible political challenger to Hun Sen, playing more the role of an apparachik. Posts he held included chairman of the Council for Demobilization of Armed Forces, chairman of the National Tourism Authority of Cambodia, chairman of the Council for Public Administrative Reform, chairman of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, and vice chairman of the National Information Communication Technology Development Authority.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 Cambodia Must Be Ready for IS, National Police Chief Says
Warning of possible attacks by the Islamic State militant group (I.S.) in Asia, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun told his officers on Monday to tighten security and scale up counterterrorism efforts.
Speaking at a meeting at the National Police headquarters in Phnom Penh, General Savoeun said that based on information from the U.S. and Europe, I.S. may expand their attacks to Asia this year.
“Cambodia is part of the region. So Cambodia needs to strongly strengthen counterterrorism in order to prevent it from happening in Cambodia,” he said, according to a post on the National Police website.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Mok Chito said terrorism was not a particular problem in Cambodia, but was a global issue. As such, he said, Cambodia was working with countries in the region and further abroad to counter potential attacks.
“We got information that ISIS plans to expand their activities to Asia,” General Chito said by telephone on Monday, using another acronym for I.S.
“Previously, they have not entered yet, so we have to be careful in preventing them and trying to collect information in order to stop them and not allow these activities to enter our country,” he said.
While the threat posed by I.S. in Southeast Asia is real, and has grown since mid-2014, the risk should not be exaggerated, said Joseph Chinyong Liow, professor of comparative and international politics at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, to the U.S. House of Representatives’ homeland security committee in April.
“No ISIS-aligned group has developed the capability to mount catastrophic, mass casualty attacks in the region,” Mr. Liow said.
“Despite the hype, there is at present no ‘ISIS Southeast Asia,’ nor has ISIS central formally declared an interest in any Southeast Asian country,” he said.
Collaboration on counterterrorism, including joint training and providing equipment, was in the interest of Cambodia and other nations—even if the likelihood of an attack occurring on Cambodian soil was “very remote,” said Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia military expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
If one were to happen, foreigners living in the country, not locals, would likely be the target because Cambodia had no role in wars in the Middle East, Mr. Thayer said.
And while Cambodian forces should be prepared to deal with any potential threat, he said the counterterrorism tools and knowledge offered by other countries were more likely to be used against domestic opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government than against I.S. terrorists.
“It’s in the interest of Cambodia to have the training, but it’s likely to be used for something else,” he said.

Amid Health Rumor
s, Deputy PM Sok An Becomes ‘Samdech’

With rumors swirling about his health, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who has not been seen in public for months, on Monday became the latest ruling party stalwart to be bestowed with the honorific “Samdech,” which translates roughly as “The Greatest.”
Mr. An, one of the country’s most prominent politicians as head of the Council of Ministers and various other state bodies, received the rare title through a royal decree released last night. Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Senate President Say Chhum received the title in 2015.
The decree lists a wide range of reasons for granting the distinction to Mr. An, 66, including his efforts toward “protecting democracy,” “building up national peace” and ensuring “social stability” under the “intelligent leadership” of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who also holds the honorific.
The reason for the decision’s timing, along with Mr. An’s current whereabouts, were unclear on Monday. Rumors began circulating over the weekend he had died, leading government spokesman Phay Siphan to take to Facebook to quell the speculation.
“In response to the news media through social networks (social media) that insulted Dr. Sok An, that’s not true,” Mr. Siphan wrote on Monday, adding that those who worked for and loved Mr. An were praying for him.
The “Samdech” honorific was put in the spotlight last year after the Information Ministry threatened to close down media outlets that did not use it when referring to officials who hold the title. Mr. Hun Sen eventually nixed the order amid widespread ridicule and defiance.

US attempt to recoup Cambodian debt 'cack-handed': former Australian Ambassador

By Kerri Worthington and wires Updated Mon Mar 13 08:11:22 EST 2017
AP: Heng Sinith, File

The issue of Cambodia's debt to the United States is back in the spotlight as the US appears set to ignore pleas from the South-East Asian nation to cancel the decades-old arrangement.

  • Cambodia's debt to the US from the early 1970s has ballooned to about $500 million
  • The poor south-east Asian nation has asked successive US governments to forgive the debt
  • Foreign policy experts say moves to force repayment are unfair
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen late last year called on then-President Elect Donald Trump to cancel debt, thought to be around $US500 million.
In 2010, he asked former president Barack Obama to convert the "dirty" debt to aid.
At the time, Hun Sen said the money his country owed the US was incurred by the Lon Nol government that came to power in a 1970 coup backed by Washington, and that it was spent on arms used against the Cambodian people.
The official US line was that the loan had been for agricultural development and that Cambodia had the means to repay.
Hun Sen raised the issue again this year, with Cambodian media reporting the PM as saying the US had no right to demand repayment of a debt that was "blood-stained" from the brutal US bombing of Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War.
Former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin said American activity in the early 1970s had done great harm to Cambodia, and it was well understood in foreign policy circles that it had contributed to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
Lon Nol was toppled in 1975 by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died in less than four years, plunging Cambodia into decades of poverty and political instability.
"At the same time the US was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country," Mr Kevin said.
"And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north.
"So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this."
Mr Kevin said the issue of debt was not raised during his 1994-1997 posting to Cambodia as Australia's ambassador.
He said he assumed that with the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) that oversaw the implementation of agreements for political settlement of the Cambodia civil war, and the normalisation of relations with the US, the debt would have been "forgiven and forgotten".
"We all would have thought it inconceivable that the United States would be approaching Cambodia now in 2017, 50 years later, with such a bill," he said.

The current US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt was quoted in the Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying he had been involved in drafting a deal between the US and Cambodia two decades ago, but the issues remain unresolved.
"I think that is unfortunate, I think that's not in Cambodia's best interest to keep letting that grow forever," he was reported as saying.
"It's Cambodia's interest not to look at the past, but to look at how to solve this because it's important to Cambodia's future."
Mr Kevin called the career diplomat's credentials "impeccable" and said if Ambassador Heidt was raising the issue now, two years into his posting, it was most likely under direct instructions from the new Trump administration.
"I can only say, if this is the case, it is absolutely cack-handed diplomacy, and I use those words with aforethought," he said.
"It's entirely inappropriate for the United States to be asking Cambodia for any kind of loan recovery at this point."
"It's unwise in terms of American foreign policy interests because Cambodia has been moving closer to China in recent years.
"Nothing could be better guaranteed to lock Cambodia in behind China on issues like the South China Sea than to destroy any possibility for flexibility towards Cambodia on that issue than this demand for money. It's just dumb."

Cambodia Outraged as US Demands Repayment
of 'Blood-Stained' War Debt

The US dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War
Published on Monday, March 13, 2017 by Common Dreams

Cambodians are responding with outrage to the U.S. government's demand that the country repay a nearly 50-year-old loan to Cambodia's brutal Lon Nol government, which came to power through a U.S.-backed coup and spent much of its foreign funds purchasing arms to kill its own citizens, according to Cambodia's current prime minister Hun Sen.
While the U.S. was backing the Lon Nol government, it was also strafing the Cambodian countryside with bombs—a carpet-bombing campaign that would eventually see over 500,000 tons of explosives dropped on the small Asian country, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and leaving a legacy of unexploded ordnances.
"[The U.S.] dropped bombs on our heads and then they ask us to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF [International Monetary Fund] not to lend us money," Hun Sen said at an Asia-Pacific regional conference earlier this month.
"At the same time the U.S. was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country," former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin told Australia's ABC.
"And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north," Kevin added. "So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this."
Hun Sen has argued that the U.S. has no right to demand repayment of its "blood-stained" funds.
"Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the U.S. for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields, and forest cover," wrote former Reuters correspondent James Pringle for The Cambodia Daily.
In fact, during his tenure as prime minister Hun Sen has asked the U.S. to drop the "dirty debt" several times, but American leaders have refused.
"[The] U.S. would not drop it. It would have been so easy to forgive the repayment, it would have been easy to refinance it for education like they did in Vietnam," the reporter Elizabeth Becker, who covered the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, told Al Jazeera.
"The U.S. intervention in Cambodia was easily the most controversial that we had in that era," Becker said. "[The U.S.] dragged Cambodia into the Vietnam War for hopes that by expanding it they could win, the complications now are that even 50 years later, the Khmer Rouge legacy is horrible."
"The U.S. owes Cambodia much more in war debts that can be repaid in cash," Becker argued to The Cambodia Daily.

Fury in Cambodia as US asks to be paid back hundreds of millions in war debts
March 11 2017

Half a century after United States B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia's countryside Washington wants the country to repay a $US500 million ($662 million) war debt.
The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.
Over 200 nights in 1973 alone, 257,456 tons of explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps – half as many as were dropped on Japan during the Second World War.
The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines – nicknamed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail."
The bombs were of such massive tonnage they blew out eardrums of anyone standing within a 1-kilometre radius.
War correspondent James Pringle was two kilometres away from a B-52 strike near Cambodia's border.
"It felt like the world was coming to an end," he recalls.
According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children.

The bombings drove hundreds of thousands of ordinary Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, an ultra-Marxist organisation which seized power in 1975 and over the next four years presided over the deaths of more than almost two million people through starvation disease and execution.
The debt started out as a US$274 million loan mostly for food supplies to the then US-backed Lon Nol government but has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a re-payment program.

William Heidt, the US's ambassador in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia's failure to pay back the debt puts it in league with Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
"To me, Cambodia does not look like a country that should be in arrears…buildings coming up all over the city, foreign investment coming in, government revenue is rapidly rising," Mr Heidt was quoted as saying by the Cambodia Daily.

"I'm saying it is in Cambodia's interest not to look to the past, but to look at how to solve this because it's important to Cambodia's future," he said, adding that the US has never seriously considered cancelling the debt.
Cambodia's strongman prime minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected to Vietnam, hit back, saying "The US created problems in my country and is demanding money from me."

"They dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money," he told an international conference in early March.
"We should raise our voices to talk about the issue of the country that has invaded other (countries) and has killed children."
Mr Pringle, a former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia with an iron-fist for three decades.
But he said on this matter he is "absolutely correct."
"Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover," he wrote in the Cambodia Daily.
American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge's genocide, has also written that the US "owes Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in cash."
Mr Hun Sen pointed out that craters still dot the Cambodian countryside and villagers are still unearthing bombs, forcing mass evacuations until they can be deactivated.
"There are a lot of grenades and bombs left. That's why so often Cambodian children are killed, because they don't know that they are unexploded ordnance," he said.
"And who did it? It's America's bombs and grenades."
A diplomat posted in Phnom Penh between 1971 and 1974 told Fairfax Media the food the US supplied Cambodia came from excess food stocks.
"I remember well that shipments of maize were made," he said.
"Cambodians do not eat maize so it was fed to the animals."
He pointed out that the US refused to normalise relations with Vietnam until it accepted to take on the US debt of the former southern regime.

Gulf Investors Begin To Eye Up Potential Of Cambodia

Mar 10, 2017 @ 09:10 AM

Along the Tonlé Sap riverfront in the center of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, the flags of Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf countries flutter in the breeze. They are lined up alongside the standards of dozens of other countries that stretch alongside Preah Sisowath Quay; some of them, ragged and torn, have clearly seen better days.
This corner of Southeast Asia has been largely overlooked by the Middle East until now, but there are signs that things are beginning to change, with the major Gulf airlines leading the way. Plans to boost tourist numbers in Cambodia have drawn the interest of Dubai-based Emirates Airline, which announced last month that it was to start daily flights between Dubai and Phnom Penh from July 1. It will join Qatar Airways, which has been flying to Phnom Penh since 2013.

The Cambodian government has set a target of attracting 8 million tourists by 2020, up from 5 million last year. But while Cambodia could have much to gain from new air links with the Gulf, the Middle East itself is unlikely to provide many more tourists. Instead, it is the one-stop connections the airlines provide to other countries in Europe and the Americas which will be most important.
Middle East tourists typically spend more than most visitors to Cambodia but their numbers are small, with just 17,537 visitors in 2016 according to the Ministry of Tourism. The biggest source market is Israel, followed by Jordan; the Gulf countries each account for just a few hundred tourists a year.
It is no surprise that locals in the main tourist town of Siem Reap – the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples – say they see few Arab visitors. Instead, Chinese tourists dominate the scene.
Until now, Gulf involvement in Cambodia has often focused on aid, although there have been a few commercial deals. In both arenas, Kuwait has tended to be the most active of the Gulf countries.
Kuwait Zakat House has funded a $350,000, 400-student school for contemporary sharia studies in Phnom Penh, where building work began in March 2013. More recently, in early 2016 the Cambodia-Kuwait Friendship Hospital opened in Kandal province. The cost of the project was estimated at just under $1m in March 2013, at the time of the official ground-breaking.
The Kuwaiti government has also funded the construction of the Kuwait Islamic Institute for Girls, where construction began in April 2016. And the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) has been involved in the country too, funding feasibility studies into an irrigation project in the Stung Sen river basin.
In terms of commercial engagement, Kuwait signed a series of agreements covering economic and technical cooperation, trade and investment with its Cambodian counterpart in 2008. That was followed, in 2011, by Kuwait’s Pima International forming a joint venture with the Indian firm D&D Pattnaik to invest in exploration for gold and iron in Cambodia. The two companies were slated to invest $10m-25m in mineral exploration in Kampong Chhnang, Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces.

Tactics and the nature of Hun Sen

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy (left) and Prime Minster Hun Sen pose
for a picture last year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

10 Mar, 2017 Shaun Turton

Appearing as the latest instalment in a long-running series of divide-and-conquer ploys, a 21-minute phone conversation, purportedly between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Kem Sokha, leaked online last Saturday.
Seemingly an attempt to frame the Cambodia National Rescue Party president as Hun Sen’s man and damage his credibility, the dialogue, say analysts, also underscored a long-present and at times contradictory dynamic in the premier’s character, that between his tactics and temperament.
As the success of the former remains in doubt, with the opposition claiming they remain united and focused on the election, the implications of the latter are coming into sharper focus, said Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia.
“He’s always been known as somebody who’s had a very strong temper, but on the other hand, makes decisions with the precision of a military commander,” said Strangio.
“So far it hasn’t really tripped him up, but it is a contradiction, and I worry as he is getting older that this contradiction will become even greater.”
The conversation, which the premier claims is “100 percent” authentic but Sokha has not verified, purports to reveal Hun Sen pushing his rival to distance himself from former CNRP president Sam Rainsy as part of a deal to drop a case against him.
Ear Sophal, author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, called it “the usual coaxing with a side of bluster”, with both tactics and emotion on display.
But in his hostility directed at Rainsy and threats to face down any challenge no matter what, the conversation also highlights the premier’s deep resentment and emotion arising specifically from threats to his rule and insults to his family.
In public speeches, the premier has made little secret of his feelings towards Rainsy. In the recording he calls him “Ah Rainsy”, in Khmer, using a hostile modifier for the former opposition president.
“Kha, I can work with you but ... in Sam Rainsy’s case, I will not make exception for insulting my wife and family,” he purportedly told Sokha.
Near the core of this frustration, says one well-connected observer, are two comments by Rainsy – one of which he has denied making.
Both are deeply personal but also touch upon fundamental issues of legitimacy, in both past and future terms.
The first, the premier has repeatedly raised in public: that Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet was fathered by Vietnamese military general Le Duc Tho, one of the architects of the Indochinese communist movement and later of the Cambodian regime installed by the Vietnamese in 1979.
The outlandish accusation, which Rainsy says he never made, strikes a raw nerve both because of the impact on his family, and its connection to the long-raised questions about the birth of the premier’s own political career in a government installed by Vietnam, said Strangio.
“It taps into that deep reservoir of resentment about the way he was treated after 1979 and also the way that they have never been accepted as legitimate partners by the so-called international community,” he said.
“From Hun Sen’s perspective, this is a bitter pill to swallow and the history of that time, gnaws at him so this issue about Rainsy allegedly accusing Hun Sen’s eldest son of not being his own son, of being half Vietnamese, is clearly something that he sees as unforgivable.”
The bitterness over that first perceived slight – which attempts to tarnish Manet’s legitimacy with the same Vietnamese brush used to tar his father – also feeds into Hun Sen’s insecurities over the second slight: Rainsy’s remarks suggesting Manet might not be able to succeed his father.
The prime minister, said the well-connected source, took particular issue with Rainsy’s 2015 interview with French newspaper Libération in which he, while discussing the pair’s famous family dinner during a high point in their relationship, opined that Hun Sen, as he aged, realised his reign was ending and knew his children could not lead the country with an “iron fist” like him.
“Hun Sen is seeking democratic legitimacy for his children, who will thus be able to guarantee a part of his security as well,” he told the newspaper.
The subject of succession is a touchy, unresolved one for Hun Sen, not to mention the country. The rise of his sons into senior state positions has long raised questions of dynastic ambitions.
But, as Strangio points out, there are few independent institutions outside of Hun Sen. And the premier, it has been said, is in some ways as much a prisoner of the patronage networks that underpin the state and his power as he is their chief patron.
His children’s place in that loyalty-based hierarchy of the CPP, independent of their father, is unknowable.
Their fate, and Hun Sen’s own, should the CNRP win power is clearly the source of deep concern for the premier, said analyst Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank.
“As a fighter and survivor, I’m pretty sure keeping his family and himself secure, or feeling other people are going after him, is bound to occupy his primary thinking constantly,” Virak said, adding he felt coming elections are set apart from previous ballots for two key reasons.
“One, the rising popularity of the opposition or, more likely, the expectations of the young population to demand more is a threat to them holding on to power. The second is that the CPP has become Hun Sen and he’s now the sole man in control, so the stakes for him are significantly higher.”
Like a previous similar leaked recording in 2011, which purportedly featured Hun Sen telling Sokha to poach members from Sam Rainsy’s rival opposition party, the clip looks unlikely to cause serious damage.
Back then, the revelation temporarily stifled merger talks between Sokha’s Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party, but did little in the end to stop the parties from forming the CNRP, which came close to beating the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at the 2013 national election.
As the next ballot approaches, the premier has responded with increasingly harsh measures, warning that the stability of the country is at stake. More than 20 CNRP members and supporters are behind bars, along with a growing number of critics.
A legal amendment, allowing authorities to disband political parties for any crime or vague reasons of threatening national unity, was yesterday ratified by Senate President Say Chhum, who signed it as acting head of state while King Norodom Sihamoni is out of the country.
In an attempt to side-step that threat, Rainsy last month stepped down as president to avoid his many convictions, widely seen as politically motivated, from being used against the party.
With the former leader now drawing fire away from the party and the opposition claiming it’s united behind Sokha, the question many are asking is: How far will Hun Sen go?
It’s a question the premier, if he is to be believed, touched on in his conversation with his direct opponent.
“I am not afraid of anybody,” he said, addressing whether he would take on Rainsy and Sokha. “Even if the country wants to face civil war again, I’ll smash them with a plate to clean [them] up completely, frankly speaking, because I am already fed up with it.”