US Orders Arms Embargo on Cambodia, Cites Concerns Over Chinese Military Presence

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
December 9, 2021 Updated: December 9, 2021

The United States has ordered an arms embargo on Cambodia, citing concerns over the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) military presence and other activities in the country.

The added restrictions on the exports and imports of defense-related goods and services, issued by the Department of State, are scheduled to be published and take effect on Thursday.

“On June 1, 2021, the Department expressed serious concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) military presence and other activities in Cambodia and emphasized that a PRC military base in Cambodia would undermine Cambodian sovereignty, threaten regional security, and negatively impact U.S.–Cambodia relations,” the unpublished rule reads (pdf).

“Senior officials at the Departments of State and Defense continue to voice these concerns but Cambodia continues to allow the PRC to expand its military presence and construct exclusive-use facilities on the Gulf of Thailand.”

The aim of the embargo, which amends the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), is to ensure that defense articles and defense services that were set to be imported or exported by Cambodia are not done so without prior review and approval by the U.S. government.

Officials cited concerns over “credible evidence of corruption, human rights abuses, and an exclusive agreement with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on military expansion in Cambodia by the Cambodian government.”

The new policy does not apply to conventional weapons destruction and humanitarian demining activities.

The CCP’s influence in the Southeast Asia nation is of growing concern to President Joe Biden’s administration and comes amid fraying relations between the United States and Cambodia, in light of reports that the country’s ruling party is persecuting its opponents.

Last month, the Treasury Department levied sanctions against two senior members of the Cambodian Ministry of National Defense, Chau Phirun and Tea Vinh, for corruption.

The Treasury in a statement alleged that in 2020 and 2021, Chau conspired with Tea and other Cambodian officials to inflate costs of a construction and updating project at Ream Naval Base facilities, and then planned to use the funds skimmed from the project for their own benefit

U.S. officials are concerned that construction at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville will be used to facilitate a Chinese military presence in Cambodia.

“The United States will not stand by while corrupt officials personally benefit at the expense of the Cambodian people,” said Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea M. Gacki at the time. “This Administration will continue to prioritize anti-corruption efforts and work tirelessly to promote accountability.”

In its statement, the Treasury also warned that recent developments in Cambodia, including growing systemic corruption, threatened national security as well as the economic growth and prosperity of Cambodia.

However, China insists that it enjoys an “iron-clad friendship” with Cambodia and that they are “comprehensive strategic partners.”

Earlier this month, Chinese regime’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn in Anji County, Zhejiang Province.

During those discussions, Wang Yi touted both countries as “a community with a shared future,” who should “unite closely more than ever before to safeguard the legitimate and legal rights and interests of the two countries, and maintain regional peace, stability, and development.”

“The two countries will continue to stand firmly together to jointly safeguard the basic norms governing international relations, and oppose unilateralism and bullying practices,” Wang Yi said.

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.