12/11/2021, 14.33
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A new front in the US-China rivalry opens up in Cambodia

Washington imposes a symbolic embargo on arms sales to Cambodia. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen responds by turning on the anti-American rhetoric with, in the background, Chinese activity at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the country’s Armed Forces to review their US-made weapons and military equipment and either store them or destroy them.

The follows a ban on arms sales imposed on Cambodia by the United States on Wednesday, ostensibly over local “corruption and human rights abuses, and to work to reduce the influence of the PRC military in Cambodia, which threatens regional and global security.”

The embargo is little more than symbolic since Cambodia does not currently buy US weapons; however, it also concerns access to dual use technology and systems that could be used for military purposes.

Furthermore, Phnom Penh is set to take over the presidency of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in 2022.

Hun Sen reacted to the US move with a harsh post on Facebook in which he sarcastically thanks the United States for the ban, which shows “the legitimacy of my decision in 1994” not to buy US weapons.

Those who used to use American weapons systems lost the war, such as during the Khmer Republic of Lon Nol, who then used the American weapons system and imported a lot of weapons to Cambodia, making Cambodia indebted to (the USA).

“More recently, US weapons users have lost the war in Afghanistan. I believe in the courage and fighting spirit,” as well as the “spirit of the fighters in defending Cambodia’s territorial integrity, rather than on weapons alone.”

Washington's concerns are centred on Chinese-funded renovations at the Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's south coast. The US government fears that it could lead to a permanent Chinese military presence on Cambodian soil.

Notwithstanding the ban, the most sensitive issue between Washington and Phnom Penh is trade, and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), which gives Cambodia’s garment industry easier access to the US market.

In the unlikely event (for now) that the GSP is revoked, Cambodia would take a major it.

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