Malaysia: 1MDB Intimidation by the IGP to come


August 1, 2015

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https://therecounter.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/macc-advisor-who-met-sarawak-report-arrested-by-special-branch-as-crackdown-begins/

Malaysia: 1MDB Intimidation by the IGP to come

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Najib in anxietyThe Scared Prime Minister

Police have also detained a Deputy Public Prosecutor involved in the recent arrests linked to money from a government agency that allegedly went into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s private bank accounts, say sources.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmad Sazilee Abdul Khairy, who is seconded from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (A-GC), was the third person arrested in a sweep this morning.

The other two, Tan Sri Rashpal Singh and Jessica Kaur, will be released tonight after Police failed to get a remand at the Petaling Jaya Police Headquarters this afternoon.

Rashpal is a former MACC advisor, while Jessica is an officer with the Attorney-General Chambers. Both were detained this morning and brought to the Petaling Jaya District Police Headquarters where they are being held for questioning under Section 124 of the Penal Code that pertains to activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy. It is learnt they will likely be freed once the Police, who have 24 hours to detain them, finish questioning them.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed the arrests, Malaysiakini reported, but said DPP Sazilee was not remanded as the Police were expected to finish questioning him today.

Khalid told the news portal that the arrests were made in connection with a Police report lodged against Sarawak Report editor Clare-Rewcastle Brown.

Rashpal and Jessica’s lawyers have been tight lipped over exactly what their clients are being investigated for. Rashpal, however, was mentioned in an article by website Malaysia Today as having met Rewcastle-Brown in London and was under suspicion of leaking information to the UK based website on 1MDB.

MACC denied this in a statement on July 21, saying that Rashpal, as an advisor, had no access to or oversight of the agency’s probe. His tenure with the advisory board had also ended in February.

MACC has also denied that any leak of information from government investigators on 1MDB had come from within the anti-graft agency.

MACC and the A-GC are part of the special government task force that is probing 1MDB, as well as allegations that money from companies linked to the state investor had been deposited into Prime MInister Dautk Seri Najib Razak’s personal accounts. The other two agencies in the task force are the Police and Bank Negara Malaysia.

Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK


July 30, 2015

READ THIS:

This is a government whose officials have frequently publically sneered at the concept and at the need to uphold human rights (despite being a former member of the United Nations Human Rights, a sitting non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and having a National Human Rights Commission).

In the first half of 2015, the Malaysian government has liberally utilised the Sedition Act of 1948 to detain and charge critics, journalists, academics, activists, and opposition politicians who fell afoul of what the authorities vaguely consider as “seditious.” Whatever that means.

This is the same government that has time and again relented and failed to address rising conservatism and intolerant religious dogma within the country and prefers to maintain an “elegant silence” whenever controversies or debates are related to religion.

It brags setting up and showcasing platforms promoting the concept of “moderation” and tolerance at the international and global levels, yet barely practises them with its own citizens instead preferring to allow racism, religious intolerance and discrimination to begin to mushroom and solidify institutionally to gain communal populist support. This has also led to the radicalisation of individuals and allegedly added on recruits for ISIL as well as other militant groups in the region.

This is a government that has also violated its own promises and charter to “ensure no Internet censorship” (refer to 1996 Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia 10 Point Bill of Guarantees) and has curtailed freedom of the press numerous times.

The recent suspension of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily and the blocking of access to the Sarawak Report website in relation to the 1MDB scandal, are themselves in contradiction with the words of the Malaysian prime minister who back in 2009 promised a new way forward in policy and politics with a “vibrant, free and informed media” which “allows people to hold public officials accountable” and that it would not be fearful of doing so. So much for that.

Those promising sunny Canaan days are now gone. Through its actions inflicted upon the media over recent years and especially within the context of the 1MDB affair, this government appears intent on continuing in not honouring those promises. It also appears that it wants to ensure its survival to remain in power at all costs. Especially now.

It is especially telling that despite the perceived loss of billions of taxpayers’ money, nobody of responsibility and consequence has resigned.

The Malaysian people are increasingly disillusioned, frustrated and angry with this administration, especially when the media are being threatened and suppressed in a perceived effort to control access to information regarding this scandal.– Azrul Mohd Khalib

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/azrul-mohd-khalib/article/why-pm-cameron-may-want-to-reconsider-his-visit-to-malaysia#sthash.knStpVEv.dpuf

Malaysia: Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

From MP Tony Pua

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

David CameronWelcome to Malaysia

Welcome back to Malaysia. It is an honour that you have decided to return to my country so soon after your last trip in April 2012.

Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on the recent successful re-election of your government.

For all its oft-cited shortcomings, the British democratic system remains among the most free and fair in the world, with the Westminster an institution most countries like ours look up to.

I am also extremely encouraged by the increasing assertiveness of UK’s foreign policy which seeks not only to serve the British national interest but equally to establish a minimum moral and ethical standards in a world increasingly dominated by greed and self-interest.

At a forum entitled “Building the world we want by 2030 through transparency and accountability” during the 69th UN General Assembly on September 24th 2014, you highlighted the fact that “the more corruption in your society, the poorer your people are.”

You admonished those who refused to deal with corruption. “Some people don’t want to include these issues in the goals. I say: don’t let them get away with it,” you said.

​Just last month, you wrote in the Huffington Post to implore the G7 to place priority on fighting corruption, using the FIFA scandal to provide the impetus. You argued eloquently that:

…at the heart of FIFA is a lesson about tackling corruption that goes far deeper. Corruption at FIFA was not a surprise. For years it lined the pockets of those on the inside and was met with little more than a reluctant sigh.

The same is true of corruption the world over. Just as with FIFA, we know the problem is there, but there is something of an international taboo over pointing the finger and stirring up concerns… But we just don’t talk enough about corruption. This has got to change.

You have since 2013 led a mission to ensure Britain’s network of overseas territories and Crown dependencies, like Cayman and British Virgin Islands, signed up to a new clampdown on tax evasion, aimed at promoting transparency and exchange of information between tax jurisdictions.

As you said, “we need to know more about who owns which company – beneficial ownership – because that is how a lot of people and a lot of companies avoid tax, using secretive companies in secretive locations.”

Yesterday, your speech in Singapore was pointed and direct. You told the listening Singapore students that “London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash”.

“I want Britain to be the most open country in the world for investment. But I want to ensure that all this money is clean money. There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere.”

You rightly pointed out that “by lifting the shroud of secrecy”, we can “stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property, without being tracked down.”

We, Malaysians need you to make the very same points in our country. Making the above points in Singapore is good, but it is like preaching to the converted as our neighbour is ranked 7th in the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

The leaders of the Malaysian government on the other hand, are embroiled in a financial scandal of epic proportions.In particular, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whom you are to meet has been recently accused by The Wall Street Journal that he has received in his personal account cash deposits amounting to nearly US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) in 2013.

It was a damning but substantiated allegation which he has steadfastly refused to deny.

Some, if not all of the money could be linked to state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which is crippled by US$11 billion of debt, requiring billions of ringgit of emergency bailout funds by the Malaysian tax-payers.

I am certain that you have been briefed on leaked documents clearly points to an incriminating trail of plunder and international money-laundering across Singapore, the Middle East, the United States, Switzerland and yes, the United Kingdom.

The New York Times and other media outfits have also raised questions about how his family owns properties, in New York, Beverly Hills and London worth tens of millions of dollars.

These properties were purchased with the same opaque “shell companies” which you have rightly censured.

The sheer scale of the sums involved makes the FIFA bribery scandal look like child’s play. This is the very reason for the drastic iron-fisted actions Najib has taken over the past two weeks.

As you would have found out by now, he has sacked the Attorney-General who was leading the investigating task force on the above scandals.

He has also sacked the Deputy Prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for questioning the 1MDB shenanigans in a Cabinet reshuffle designed to stifle inquiries into the subject matter.

The newly promoted Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is also the Home Minister, acted to suspend the country’s leading business papers, The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily last week because they played a leading role in uncovering the multi-billion dollar scam to defraud Malaysians.

Can you ever imagine the UK Financial Times being suspended? I have on the other hand, been in a relentless pursuit to uncover the conspiracy to defraud the country at the very highest levels since 2010. Earlier in March this year, I became the first Member of Parliament to be sued for defamation by a prime minister in the country in a blatant attempt to muzzle my strident criticisms.

When that failed, I have found out last week that I’ve also become the first MP ever to be barred from travelling overseas, without any reasons, valid or otherwise, being provided.

The only plausible reason for such a drastic action against my right to travel is that I will soon be arrested for my troubles to expose the truth and highlight the staggering size of embezzlement, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust.

If the local media’s Police sources were to be believed, I am most ironically being investigated under the recently amended Criminal Penal Code for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. It is a ‘heinous’ crime which carries up to a 20-year jail sentence.

Mr Prime Minister,

You have written that you “need to find ways of giving more support and encouragement to those in business, civil society and the media who are working to fight corruption”.

Malaysians need your “support and encouragement” today. While we do not need your interference over our sovereign affairs, we also do not need any pretentious praise embedded into polite diplomatic speak which will lend any legitimacy desperately sought by Najib’s administration.

We also hope that the worthy mission to increase trade relations between our two countries with great historical links will not relegate your goals to “make the global business environment more hostile to corruption and to support the investigators and prosecutors who can help bring the perpetrators to justice.”

We pray for your wisdom to speak resolutely on Britain’s zero tolerance against corruption and money laundering. For Malaysia, the façade of a moderate Westminster-like democracy masks many ugly truths of social injustice, political oppression and extensive corruption.

Like you, I’ve had the immeasurable privilege of completing my degree in the best university in the UK, which ranks among the best in the world (if not the best). We completed the same course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) but I was 6 years your junior.

While you received a first class honours and I missed the cut, I hope that our alma mater has embedded in us the moral fortitude to play our little roles in building a better world.

I will end my letter with a quote from our fellow alumnus and PPEtony-pua2 graduate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who most pertinently said, “sometimes I think that a parody of democracy could be more dangerous than a blatant dictatorship, because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing anything about it”.

Thank you for listening, Mr Prime Minister. – July 29, 2015.

* Tony Pua is DAP Selangor Chairman and Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara

–www.themalaysianinsider.com

Note: I congratulate my MP Tony Pua for penning this Open Letter to you, Mr.  Cameron. Your visit is poorly timed. One would have thought you would have postponed it to a much better time, not now because Malaysia is in a political crisis. The desperate Malaysian Prime Minister will use your visit to boost his image. However, now that you have come to our country those of us who were  educated in Malaysia in 1950s  and abroad have enough “British” manners to receive you and your delegation with respect. We warmly congratulate you on your recent electoral success. 

During your brief stay in Kuala Lumpur, we hope you will convey a message to your idiotic and insecure Malaysian counterpart that he must listen to the voices of the Malaysian people and serve them well.  Right now he cannot be trusted to do the right thing. When no one is watching, he puts his hand in the till to the tune of USD 700 million and maybe more. When he is caught, he fails to respond  with dignity.  He is not attempting to solve our country’s political, economic and social problems. In stead, your Malaysian counterpart is compounding them with his divisive politics.

Mr. Najib should be reminded that we put him there because we voted for his coalition in 2013, although his coalition lost the popular vote,  and we intend to throw his coalition out should he decide to hold our next general elections, barring massive rigging and cheating at the polls. In a democracy, power belongs to the people, that is Democracy 101. –Din Merican

David Cameron under Fire for Talks with Scandal Ridden Premier Najib Razak


July 29, 2015

Foreign Affairs: David Cameron under Fire for Talks with Scandal Ridden Premier Najib Razak

by Beh Lih Yi in Jakarta

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/28/david-cameron-talks-scandal-malaysian-leader-najib-razak

David Cameron

David Cameron under fire ahead of talks with scandal-hit Malaysian leader

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sacks Deputy and country’s top attorney after questions over claims he took millions from government investment fund.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for pushing ahead with a visit to Malaysia this week at a time when the south-east Asian nation’s leader is embroiled in an escalating corruption scandal and has stepped up a crackdown on dissent.

Malaysian Premier Najib Razak has been urged to resign after media reports alleged some US$700m linked to a troubled state investment fund (1MDB) had ended up in his personal bank accounts.

Razak has denied taking any public funds for personal use, and his government has lashed out at criticism by mounting a crackdown on dissent that has seen two newspapers suspended and a British-based whistleblowing website blocked.

MuhyiddinFormer Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia

On Tuesday, the Malaysian Premier removed his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who has openly criticised him over the scandal, just hours after the government sacked the country’s top attorney, who had been leading an official investigation into the corruption allegations against Najib.

Politicians and activists who have criticised the government have also been hit with travel restrictions, with one prominent opposition MP barred from leaving the country.

“There could have been a better time for the visit,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s opposition leader, told the Guardian ahead of Cameron’s arrival in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, the final stop of a four-nation tour of south-east Asia.

The MP, who is also the wife of jailed opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, called on Cameron to raise the scandal and human rights issues when he holds talks with Najib, and said he should also meet opposition parties to get “a better idea” about the political turmoil engulfing the former British colony.

“He must not only meet with the government but the opposition as well,” she said. “He should talk about freedom, the suspension of the newspapers and the use of the sedition law – something that is so repressive – and the welfare of the former opposition leader [Anwar].”

Liew Chin Tong, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Action party, said Cameron must tell Najib categorically to “respect the rule of law as well as human rights”.

Cameron is hoping to boost trade ties between the UK and the region during his visit that also includes stops in Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Efforts to fight jihadist group Isis are also on the agenda during his stops in Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia.

Michael Buehler, a south-east Asian expert at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said Cameron would not be “entirely honest” if he ignores the corruption claims during his visit, as business and politics remain closely linked in the region.

“One cannot talk about business without also mentioning the political conditions in these countries. Cameron’s visit is indeed untimely, given the escalation of the corruption scandal in the country,” Buehler said.

Writing in the Daily Mail last week about the trip, Cameron himself vowed to put the fight against graft top of his agenda after claiming critics were “wrong” to say the UK should avoid doing business with countries with barriers to trade, including corruption.

“Many in South East Asia have led the battle against corruption, which costs the global economy billions of pounds a year. Britain is joining them in that fight – I’ve put the issue at the top of the global agenda,” he wrote.

Najib’s move against the deputy premier came in an unexpected cabinet reshuffle just two days after Muhyiddin broke ranks and openly urged Najib to tell “real facts” over the scandal and answer questions over whether he received the money.

Announcing the decision, Najib said “differences of opinions shouldn’t be expressed openly” among his cabinet members, according to the Malay Mail Online website.

The cabinet reshuffle was seen as an attempt to shore up support for the beleaguered Najib in the cabinet, as an internal tussle within the ruling party in the coming days could put pressure on the Malaysian leader to resign.

Foreign Affairs: Obama Stay Clear of Najib’s Malaysia


July 29, 2015

Time

Foreign Affairs:  Obama Stay Clear  of Najib’s Malaysia

by Charlie Camp6ell

http://time.com/3974380/obama-malaysia-najib-razak-1mdb/

Washington is having serious trouble finding dependable allies in Southeast Asia

Obama Najib GolfStay Away from Tainted Malaysian Prime Minister

The U.S.’s “rebalancing” toward Asia has two main pillars: being a counterweight to China and securing a free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Washington is to succeed on both fronts, it needs as many friends in the region as it can win. The U.S.’s newest ally is Malaysia, this year’s chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Nation, collectively a growing market, and, on the surface, a modern, democratic, Muslim country.

In April 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama paid an official visit to Malaysia, the first sitting President to do so in decades, and, later in the year, played golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when both were on holiday in Honolulu. This November, Kuala Lumpur will host the next East Asia Summit and Obama is due to attend.

But recently, all the news coming out of Malaysia is negative. After becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal, Najib on Tuesday sacked his Deputy and Malaysia’s Attorney-General in an apparent purge of critics. British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a domestic backlash for pushing forward with a visit to Kuala Lumpur this week despite the snowballing controversy.

Here are five reasons why Obama might want to break from Cameron by giving Najib a wide berth.

  1. 1MDB — A Wall Street Journal report has alleged that Najib’s personal bank accounts received nearly $700 million in March 2013 from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-owned development fund. Najib has protested his innocence and threatened legal action against the Journal. “I am not a thief,” Najib told Malaysian media on July 5. “I am not a traitor and will not betray Malaysians.” The Police, the local anticorruption agency, the Attorney General’s office and the central bank are investigating the allegations. On July 8, the police raided 1MDB’s office in Kuala Lumpur and took away documents. Even before the latest news, 1MDB was an embarrassment for Najib, who chaired the fund’s advisory board as debts of $11.6 billion were accrued. Such are the suspicions of malfeasance that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the country from 1981 to 2003 and has long been considered Najib’s mentor, has repeatedly called for his protégé’s resignation over 1MDB’s alleged mishandling.
  2. Anwar Ibrahim — Najib’s main political rival is once again in prison for a sodomy conviction. Human Rights Watch deemed his five-year sentence handed down Feb. 10 to be “politically motivated proceedings under an abusive and archaic law.” This is the second time Anwar has been jailed for sodomy.
  3. Hudud — Stoning for adultery and amputation for theft are not the kind of punishments meted out by the progressive state that Malaysia purports to be. Yet Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is supporting attempts to introduce hudud Islamic law in the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) heartland state of Kelantan, where nightclubs are forbidden and men and women are designated separate public benches. Why is UMNO supportive of recognizing hudud under federal law? Largely because PAS is part of a three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition that is UNMO’s chief challenger. The other partners — Anwar’s Keadilan, or People’s Justice Party, supported by middle-class, urban Malays, and the Chinese Malaysian–backed Democratic Action Party (DAP) — are strongly against hudud. Many analysts accuse UMNO of cynically fostering a radical Islamic bent to widen rifts in its political opponents.
  4. Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa — In 2002, when Najib was Defense Minister, a $1.25 billion contract was signed to purchase two Scorpène submarines from French firm DCNS. Altantuyaa was a Mongolian woman who, knowing French, facilitated negotiations as a translator, and then allegedly attempted to blackmail Abdul Razak Baginda, one of Najib’s aides with whom she was also having an affair, for $500,000 over “commission” payments he had allegedly received. Two policemen posted to Najib’s bodyguard detail were convicted of murdering Altantuyaa on October. 18, 2006. Najib denies any involvement.
  5. Prevention of Terrorism Act — Najib campaigned on scrapping the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) but then immediately replaced it with the equally sweeping Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA. The POTA includes practically the same powers as ISA, including two-year detention without trial, and was dubbed a “legal zombie arising from the grave of the abusive [ISA]” by Human Rights Watch. Najib also vowed to repeal the similarly maligned Sedition Act but reneged after his election in 2013. In fact, in April his government extended the maximum jail term under the Sedition Act from three to 20 years.

Cambodia and China: Chinese Investment and Aid


July 18, 2015

Cambodia and China: Chinese Investment and Aid

by Heng Pheakdey, EISD

The China–Cambodia relationship has reached new peaks in recent years. China is now Cambodia’s largest foreign investor, a major donor of aid and an increasingly important trading partner. But this growing relationship is also accompanied by renewed controversies.

China undeniably plays a crucial role in Cambodia’s economic development. China invested a total of US$9.17 billion between 1994 and 2012. Chinese investment in the textiles industry has increased Cambodia’s exports and created employment for thousands of women in rural areas, while investment in the energy sector, particularly in hydropower development, has helped reduce Cambodia’s chronic energy shortages. China is also a major source of foreign assistance for Cambodia. By 2012, Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia reached US$2.7 billion, making it the country’s second-largest donor after Japan. Cambodia has been using China’s so-called ‘no strings attached’ aid to build roads and bridges, helping to improve the country’s much needed infrastructure.

But behind these impressive numbers lie hidden agendas and serious social and political implications. While Chinese investment and aid is much needed for economic development, China’s unquestioning approach to how its aid and investment money is distributed and used has exacerbated corruption, deteriorated good governance and human rights, and ruined Cambodia’s resources and natural environment. Human rights activists have often accused Chinese textile factories of abusing worker’s rights, while China’s hydropower investments have destroyed protected areas, forest biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen

In return for its generous financial aid, China has exerted its influence on Cambodia to propel its own political interests. Cambodia’s decision to deport 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum seekers to China upon Beijing’s request in 2009 is a clear example of this. In another instance, after receiving millions of dollar in pledges from China last year, Cambodia refrained from discussing the South China Sea disputes during the ASEAN Summit, which was harshly criticised by the international community and resulted in the failure by ASEAN’s foreign ministers to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN history. Cambodia has also been accused of favouring Chinese investment, putting China’s investment interests above that of other nations. According to a report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 50 per cent of the land concessions granted since 1994 — totalling 4.6 million hectares — were given to Chinese companies to invest in mining, hydropower and agriculture in Cambodia.

There are concerns that the government is at risk of losing its autonomy. If it were to rely solely on China, Cambodia also risks losing face and trust from the international community, and its role in ASEAN might be marginalised if it continues to put China ahead of ASEAN.

There is no doubt that Cambodia needs China’s assistance to further its economic development. Likewise, China sees Cambodia as an important ally for exercising greater influence in Southeast Asia and counterbalancing the United States. Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue recently said that the positive relationship China and Cambodia have built over the years serves as a role model of friendship between countries of different social systems. He is convinced that, with the careful guidance of its leaders and the efforts of its people, China and Cambodia can further deepen their mutual trust for one another and improve cooperation, so as to develop the relationship to a greater level.

To ensure this long-lasting relationship is mutually beneficial, the two nations must work together to improve transparency, promote participatory and inclusive development by involving all relevant stakeholders, and minimise environmental degradation. Cambodia must strengthen its institutions, implement policies that encourage responsible investment and link aid to poverty reduction. China needs to rebuild its image as a good neighbour and international citizen — one that is accountable for its foreign investment and promotes sustainable development.

Heng Pheakdey is a doctoral researcher at the UV University Amsterdam and Founding Director of Enrich Institute for Sustainable Development.

Foreign Policy: Cambodia- China Relations


July 15, 2015

Foreign Policy: Cambodia – China Relations

According to conventional wisdom, the international system leaves small states less room for maneuver. Cambodia is no exception. Since the kingdom won its independence from France in 1953, it had been preoccupied with protecting that independence, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During the Cold War, Cambodian foreign policymakers  tried various approaches, from neutrality to alliances with major power(s) and, worst of all, isolationism. Yet Cambodia remained a victim of power politics, and ended up with a civil war and some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Early in the 21st century, China has emerged as a regional and global power. China’s power and influence can be felt in all corners of the globe, most evidently in continental Southeast Asia. In this context, the Cambodia-China bilateral relationship has experienced a remarkable transformation over the last decade or so. Although rooted in mistrust due to the involvement of China in Cambodia’s civil war and social strife, especially Beijing’s support for the Khmer Rouge regime, bilateral ties have noticeably consolidated and improved since 1997.

In December 2010, the two countries upgraded their bilateral ties to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.’ Cambodia continues to attach great economic and strategic importance to China’s rise.

Economically, China plays an increasingly important role in the socio-economic development of Cambodia as its primary trading partner, largest source of foreign direct investment, and top provider of development assistance and soft loans. Noticeably, two-way trade between Cambodia and China grew from $2.34 billion in 2012 to around $3.3 billion in 2013. Recently, the two countries agreed to boost their bilateral trade to reach the target of $5 billion by 2017. Similarly, Chinese investment in Cambodia in 2013 rose 65 percent, to $435.82 million compared to $263.59 million in 2012. More importantly, Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia reached $2.7 billion in 2012, making it one of the latter’s largest donors. Moreover, Cambodia will reap enormous benefits from new Chinese initiatives such as the Maritime Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Militarily, China is the biggest source of assistance to Cambodia’s armed forces in various forms. In May 2012, Cambodia and China signed a military cooperation agreement in which China agreed to provide $17 million to Cambodia to build military hospitals and military training schools for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and promised to continue training military personnel in Cambodia. The latter is, according to Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh, a “great contribution to improving the Cambodian army’s capacity in national defense.” It is worth noting that Chinese military assistance increased remarkably at a time when Cambodia badly needed to build up its defense forces due to the increasingly tense border dispute with Thailand from 2008 to 2011.

Victim of Location

In geopolitical and strategic terms, Cambodia had been a victim of its location as a country sandwiched between two powerful and historically antagonistic neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The history of Cambodia vividly suggests that over the six hundred years following the fall of the Khmer Empire, Thailand and later Vietnam regularly defeated Khmer armies and annexed Khmer territories. The two countries had always attempted to impose their suzerainty over Cambodia. Cambodia’s acceptance of the French protectorate in 1863 was an escape from suzerainty.

The eruption of a border conflict with Thailand from 2008 to 2011 reminded Cambodian leaders that its stronger neighbors remain a security threat to the kingdom’s territorial integrity. It also prompted Cambodian leaders to rethink the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. In fact, since becoming a member of ASEAN in 1999, the regional grouping has always been the cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy. Cambodian policymakers were convinced that ASEAN would be a crucial regional platform through which their country could safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its strategic and economic interests. However, it seems that Cambodia’s confidence in ASEAN has faded due to the grouping’s ineffective response to the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute.

Most recently, Cambodia has had problems with its neighbor to the east, Vietnam, apparently due to sensitive issues related to border disputes and illegal migration, as witnessed by tensions that culminated in a violent clash on June 29, 2015 between Cambodian border activists and Vietnamese residents along the border. In an unprecedented move, Cambodia’s foreign ministry sent a dozen protest notes to urge Vietnamese authorities to halt all activities along the border that undermine the status quo.

Somewhat unusually, between July 2014 and June 2015, Cambodian authorities deported 2,058 illegal Vietnamese immigrants. Dynamic political developments in Cambodia in the aftermath of the July 2013 general elections – particularly the diffusion of the foreign policy-making process with the stronger influence of Cambodia’s opposition, a more vocal civil society voice in national politics, and the negative historical perception of Vietnam in Cambodia – play an important part in the prickly relationship. A general strategic misalignment between Phnom Penh and Hanoi is the underlying factor.

Regardless, while the reasons for the deterioration of Cambodia-Vietnam relations remain uncertain, it is certain that the more perceived unease or threat Phnom Penh has from its neighbors, the closer Cambodia will grow to China. This explains Phnom Penh’s inconsistency on the South China Sea, with its latest position actually that of Beijing.

Alternatives

Broadly, Cambodia might opt for alternatives by strengthening its relations with other major powers, such as Japan, India, and the United States. However, there are certain challenges and constraints for Cambodia in pursuing this approach. Japan has long been one of its most important development partners. However, the problem for Japan in the eyes of Cambodian foreign policymakers is that the former’s military and strategic role in the region is limited due to its pacifist constitution and perceived lack of a foreign policy independent from the United States.

As for India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy sounds promising as far as India’s increasing engagement in Southeast Asia is concerned. However, there is a perception in the region that India still lacks both the capacity and the commitment to successfully implement its policy.

Finally, although the United States has been playing a crucial role in maintaining and promoting peace and stability in Asia, there remains a huge gap in Cambodia-U.S. relations. The gap is the result of a strategic misalignment between the two nations, a trust deficit between the two countries’ leaders, and other sensitive issues hindering the bilateral relationship including the United States’ focus on human rights and democratic values.

Therefore, Phnom Penh might believe that a provisional alignment, rather than fully bandwagoning, with China is the best short-term strategic option given its security and development objectives. However, it is clear that Cambodia-China bilateral ties are asymmetric and the smaller side – Cambodia – will, to a certain extent, experience strategic risks and vulnerabilities. It might have to compromise its sovereignty and foreign policy autonomy to please China.

As a result, Cambodia must develop strategies for the medium and long terms. In the medium run, Cambodia must be a proactive member of ASEAN and play a role in promoting that organization’s centrality in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Cambodia must create a favorable environment to consolidate its relations with other major powers in Asia and beyond.

In the long run, Cambodia must adopt a self-reliant and omnidirectional foreign policy. As a small state, Cambodia must seek a large number of friends in the region while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign, independent, and prosperous nation. Cambodia must promote a rules-based regional order so that all states, regardless of their size, approach international affairs with similar assumptions. It is key for Phnom Penh to ensure the equality and survival of small countries.

It is crucially important to emphasize that while there are different reasons Cambodia cannot execute all its strategic choices at the same time in the short run, the realization of the first option by no means affects the chance to implement the two other options.

Ultimately, Cambodia’s provisional alignment with China will depend on the foreign policy behaviors of Thailand and Vietnam toward Cambodia, ASEAN’s relevance in meeting the security need of its members, its capability to withstand perceived threats from neighboring countries, and the availability of sufficient support from the international community to ensure the small kingdom’s survival, sovereignty, and pursuit of prosperity.

The author is a PhD student at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Australian National University; and a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS).