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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Cambodia's Descent into
Dictatorship: Response by the
International Com munity
Carlyle A. Thayer
September 6, 2017

We are preparing a report on the international community factor in Cambodia's


current descent into dictatorship. We request your assessment of the following issue:
Q1. What is your read on the statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng
Shuang that China "has always supported Cambodia in following the development
part suited to its national conditions and the Cambodian government's effort to
uphold national security and stability." How would Hun Sen interpret this?
ANSWER: Hun Sen would interpret this statement as a sign of China's support for
Cambodia and non-interference in its internal affairs. Afterthe 2013 national elections
Hun Sen made the Chinese Embassy his first port of call. My interpretation of what
transpired is as follows. Hun Sen sought reassurances of continued Chinese support at
a time of domestic unrest. He got this reassurance but China made it clear they didn't
want their economic and commercial interests to be affected by the unrest. The
message was subtle but clear. China will support Hun Sen under these conditions but
if Hun Sen cannot protect Chinese interests China will support a CPP [Cambodian
People's Party] leader who can. Hun Sen got the message loud and clear.

Q2. ln what ways does the umbrella of China's support protect Cambodia from fallout
from the government's decision to arrest the opposition leader for treason and
implicating the US in the "plot"?
ANSWER: China will pick up the pieces if the U.S. or other donor countries resort to
sanctions or punitive actions against Cambodia. ln the past when the U.S. has
suspended the supply of military vehicles, China has stepped in and provided its own
vehicles. Hun Sen can rest assured that China will provide material and financial
support in the event punitive action is taken.
China opportunisticallywill restate its adherence to the principle of non-interference
in Cambodia's internal affairs. Hun Sen and the CPP regime will be insulated to a
certain extent from external pressures,
At the worst period in U.S.-Cambodia relations, following the 1997 coup, the U.S.
channeled its aid through NGOs so as not to hurt the Cambodian people. lt is doubtful
the U.S. under the Trump Administration would invest much in pushing back against
Hun Sen, The call will be made by Secretary Rex Tillerson and his hands appear full at
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the moment, besides the State Department is woefully understaffed and aid cuts are
forecast. This gives the U.S. less leverage.

Q3. Though many Western countries have lost significant influence in Cambodia,
correlating with a drop in their political will to engage, Japan retains the second largest
development fund footprint and the second largest FDI [foreign direct investment] in
Cambodia. lt has invested time and resources in Cambodia's elections. lt, however,
has stayed silent only offering a statement saying it was "watching the situation with
great interest."
ANSWER: Japan, as a liberal democracy, joined with other likeminded states to
support the UNTAC [United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] process and
the new Constitution that decreed Cambodia was a liberal democracy. Japan will likely
take its lead from other likeminded countries such Australia, the United States and
other democratic donor countries.
Japan has long been motivated to counter China's rising influence in Cambodia and
Japanese investment and overseas development assistance was meant to reinforce
the activities of its partners. Japan also takes a long-range view and will wait and see
how current developments will impact on free and fair national elections next year.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, "Cambodia's Descent into Dictatorship:


Response by the lnternational Community," Thoyer Consultoncy Background Brief ,
September 6, 2077. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for
Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type, UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject
heading and hit the Reply key.

Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.
Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Cambodia's Anti-Americanism :
Should Trump Respond?

Carlyle A. Thayer
Septemb er 6, 2017

We request your insights regarding the latest developments in Cambodia. We are


particularly interested to look at what options are available to the United States in
response to some pretty pointed actions and invective against them by Hun Sen. What
obstacles there are to U.S. action and is the US actually likely to do?
We request your assessment of the following issues:

Q1) To your knowledge, does the State Department have any kind of strategic
response options to the Cambodian government's attack on U.S. institutions and
programs in Cambodia? Surely, they have known for a long time that something like
this was coming.
ANSWER: Hun Sen's actions may have been forecast, but the steps he has taken this
year are unprecedented. lt can only be surmised that the State Department is in
disarray with the new Trump Administration, a new Secretary of State with little
experience in diplomacy, vacancies at senior level, and impending budget cuts. The
U.S, Mission has offered some push back. lt is more likely U.S. advocacy groups and
the U.S, Congress will take steps to respond; but quite frankly Cambodia is not
frontpage news.
Q2) The State Department has lost a vast amount of capacity and direction since
Donald Trump came to power and Rex Tillerson began effectively down-sizing it. Do
you think these actions by the Trump administration have hamstrung the
department's ability to respond to spot fires in these small but still quite important
relationships?
ANSWER: There was no response by the Trump Administration when Hun Sen
cancelled military exercises with the U.S. earlier this year. Since Trump's Afghanistan
speech, in which he nixed nation-building and democracy promotion, who at State will
take any initiative against Hun Sen?
The Trump Administration was required by Congress to submit a National Security
Strategy (NSS) within L2O days of coming into office. None has been forthcoming. The
NSS provides the framework for a set of subsidiary policies. The Trump Administration
has exhibited no ability to think strategically and multilateralism is no doubt a taboo
word. The Trump Administration did not respond to President Rodrigo Duterte's
trashing of the U.S. alliance. lt is doubtfulthat Cambodia is on their radar screen.
According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (httpq://usU.gqv/gquntriqs-
resions/southeast-asia-pacific/Cambodia-), Cambodia has a trade surplus with the
United States of S2.8 billion out of a total two-way trade of $3.2 billion. The U.S. ranks
tenth among goods exporters to Cambodia, while Cambodia ranks L03rd in U.S. goods
exports. The United States is Cambodia's largest single-country export market.

Q3) Cambodia was very worried about the TPP [Tarns Pacific Partnership]. Has the
scuppering of it cost the U.S. a valuable bargaining chip in situations like this and
embolden Hun Sen or was its influence negligible anyway?
ANSWER: President Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from the TPP has left it without a
valuable means of leverage across the region. Since the U.S. has not yet articulated a

strategy towards the lndo-Pacific


Region bilateral relations have become transactional. Vietnam wanted to join the TPP
and as soon as the U.S. withdrew, it dispatched its Prime Minster to Washington to
meet with Trump and agree to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement. Vietnam is
bending over back not to be one of the countries singled out for punitive action for its
$30 billion plus trade surplus with the U.S. Vietnam ranks sixth on the U.S. list. From
Cambodia's perspective, the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP is merely another sign that
the U.S. is unreliable and China is the rising power.
Q4) Republicans have traditionally been the most trigger happy when it comes to
tough talk on things like sanctions against Hun Sen. They control both chambers of
Congress now. Has that changed anything in terms of the likelihood of sanctions as a
response to the current actions of the Cambodian government or a further escalation
of the situation?
ANSWER: Congress and its relevant committees are focused on so many issues of
higher priority such as relations with China, the North Korean crisis, relations with
Russia, that it is unlikely to give much priority to Cambodia. lf Congress imposes
sanctions this will not affect Hun Sen's pivot to China.
From Hun Sen's perspective, the U.S. and other liberal democracies have been hls
main critic from the git go in 1993. Hun Sen was originally viewed as a former Khmer
Rouge and then a Vietnamese communist stooge. After 1-993, Hun Sen was viewed as
the spoiler of the democratic process in Cambodia. He refused to accept the results of
the 1993 elections; and the U.S. and its partners have been his strongest critics at
every national election since 1998. All this is viewed by Hun Sen and his regime as
interference in Cambodia's domestic affairs. I would hazard that if the U.S. really
escalated its criticism of Cambodia and took punitive action, Hun Sen would declare
the U.S. Ambassador persona non grota.
Q5) Perhaps the most damaging response, that some refer to in the parlance of the
day as the "nuclear option," would be to sanction U.S. imports of Cambodian garments
as it would potentially throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work and onto
the streets- causing a serious headache for Hun Sen. What are the obstacles to this
option and do you think it would ever seriously be considered?
ANSWER: lf Cambodian garment exports to the U.S. become an issue it will be because
of the trade imbalance and the Trump Administration's myopic view of bilateral
relations with small states. U.S. labor unions have supported Cambodia's special
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access as long as Cambodia adheres to international labor standards set by the


lnternational Labor Organization. The unions supported the Democratic Party and
Obama's balance to the Asia Pacific. These forces, the labor unions and the Democratic
Party, do not have the clout to prevent the Trump Administration from taking punitive
action if it chose to do so. lt is doubtful that Trump or many Republican congressmen
lose sleep over the impact that the "nuclear option" might have on the Cambodian
people. lf the U.S. invoked the "nuclear option" would it be to get Hun Sen to refrain
from repressingthe opposition, media and civilsociety? Orwould it be to punish Hun
Sen and his regime fr its anti-Americanism?

Q6) What response do you think the U.S. will take? What response should they take?
ANSWER: The United States is likely to roll with Hun Sen's punches much as the Trump
Administration has shown remarkable restraint in not responding to Duterte's
provocations. After all President Trump praised his Philippine counterpart for his war
on drugs.
The last thing Hun Sen would want would be to provoke the U.S. - whether the
Congress, White House or U.S. trade representative - to raise Cambodia's market
access to the United States. Unrest by textile workdrs would destabilize the Hun Sen
regime and provide grist forthe opposition mill.
Both House and Senate foreign affairs/relations committees should hold hearings on
Cambodia (and perhaps the Philippines as well) to define U.S. interests in Cambodia
and raise policy responses to Hun Sen's anti-Americanism. A stronger response would
be for the State Department to show some U.S. leadership on Cambodia among the
donor community especially with Australia, Japan and the EU states.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, "Cambodia's Anti-Americanism: Should Trump


Respond?," Thoyer Consultoncy Bockground Brief , September 6,20L7. All background
briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the
mailing list type, UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.

Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.