Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cambodia-US relations: Has the ghost of the 1970 coup returned?

Op-Ed by Khmerization

2nd April 2010

“I can sense the ghost of the 1970 coup d’etat returns, sooner or later, if Hun Sen’s recalcitrance and his anti-American policy still persists.”


The US decision to cancel a delivery of its military aid to the present Cambodian government seems like a déjà vu and reminiscent of the US sour relations with Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum government in the 1950s and 60s. The then United States government wanted Cambodia to adopt a US-friendly policy in exchange for economic and military aid. Sihanouk rejected America’s overtures and instead opted for China’s aid. Sihanouk’s rejection of American aid led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries which then led the US government to cut off all aid in the late 1960s. The cut of aid by America and Sihanouk’s acceptance of aid from China had culminated into a strain in the relations between the two countries which had precipitously led to the US orchestrating a coup against Sihanouk in 1970.

By the same token, Hun Sen’s toying with China and his present anti-American attitude could be a premonition and recipe for the repeat of the 1970 event. The then US Administration had used Defence Minister and Prime Minister Lon Nol to turn against Sihanouk and then induced a coup d’etat to topple him. America could now do the same with Hun Sen by using some of his closest lieutenants to topple him.

Hun Sen is now repeating Sihanouk’s fatal mistake by playing a dangerous game with America. Another US-induced coup d’etat might be hatched sooner or later should Hun Sen choose to ignore America and continue to irritate America with his cosy relations with China. Hun Sen, like Sihanouk, had been duped and hypnotised to believe that China is Cambodia’s only saviour. Like Sihanouk, he is of the view that only China could help Cambodia to counter America’s bully and that Cambodia could use China’s political and military leverage to protect itself from the Vietnamese expansionism and hegemony. Sihanouk’s gamble and miscalculations had cost Cambodia irreparable destruction and the loss of nearly 2 million of innocent Cambodian lives. Hun Sen’s present gamble and miscalculations could likewise lead to another calamity and disastrous consequence for Cambodia and the Cambodian people.

I am of the opinion that Hun Sen’s policy of playing off one superpower against another is dangerous for Cambodia. Cambodia’s intimate relations with only China is neither good for Cambodia nor the Cambodian people in the long run, but is dangerous. I am of the view that good relations with all the superpowers, especially America, are in the best interests of Cambodia. Good and smooth relations with America will ensure an enduring democracy, security and long lasting economic prosperity which have been proven in other countries that have accepted American aids and political guidance like Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Israel and the Philippines. Good relations with China, as seen in Cambodia in the 1950s and 60s, will only bring short term security, political stability and economic prosperity, but will face misery and destruction like in the 1970s when Cambodia was led by China’s proxy- the Khmer Rouge regime. Today, China’s massive investments had been pouring in in exchange for big concessions such as forestry concessions, farmland concessions, mining and hydroelectric dam-building concessions. Most of these concessions will cause disastrous and irreparable environmental damage to Cambodia and, without a doubt, they will generate big benefits and high returns for China in the future. As such, the notion that Chinese aids are unconditional and without a tie is a myth and misconception.

On the other hand, the US aids are mostly conditional on Cambodia improving democracy, human rights and institutional reforms, which will only benefit Cambodia and the Cambodian people. Most of the countries that received American aids, like Israel, Turkey, Thailand and the Philippines, have never had any problems with American conditions because governments of these countries are democratically elected and their human rights records are acceptable to the United States subsequent governments. Cambodia under Mr. Hun Sen cannot accept American conditions because it is corruption-prone, incompetent and its human rights records are appalling and therefore cannot be made comparable to these countries in any sense.

I can sense the ghost of the 1970 coup d’etat returns, sooner or later, if Hun Sen’s recalcitrance and his anti-American policy still persists.

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