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Dara Sakor

Cambodia’s Koh Kong New Port, which is a part of Dara Sakor, the Chinese backed investment zone. Dara Sakor occupies 20 percent of the Cambodia coastline and is under Chinese control with a 99-year lease. The PRC has used Union Development Group Co., Ltd. (UDG) projects in Cambodia to advance ambitions to project power globally. UDG’s Dara Sakor resort includes plans for an international airport, hospitals, international schools, five-star hotels, and—most controversially — a deep-water port large enough to handle cruise ships, bulk carriers, or large naval vessels. By mid-2019 the new port had a pier of about 500m length, and a pier/breakwater of almost 900m. The area near the pier had been cleared for construction of support buildings.

Dara Sakor is a 360 km² L-shape development located along the southwest coast of Koh Kong Province, Cambodia, which lies along the Gulf of Thailand. The project is situated about 260 km to Phnom Penh, 560 km to Angkor Wat, and 60 km to Sihanoukville. Dara Sakor has a Code 4E International Airport that is currently under construction and estimated to operate by 2021. This would reduce the average travelling time within ASEAN to about 2-3 hours and about 4-5 hours within East and Northeast Asia. There would be a 100,000-ton international container terminal, a cruise terminal, a 2,000-ton cargo terminal and a yacht terminal. Developing Dara Sakor into a world class integrated land, sea and air passenger flow system and logistics services.

Cambodia poses a growing strategic threat to its neighbors, specifically by the Government of Cambodia’s reported agreement to allow the PRC to use Ream Naval Base as a military outpost to cover the southern flank of the South China Sea and the approval for the construction by the Chinese Union Development Group of a two-mile, dual use runway and port at Dara Sakor, located 45 miles from Ream, as part of a $3.8 billion development project. Some 70 km (40 miles) northwest of Ream, a PRC company is building a runway at the Dara Sakor resort that is capable of taking some of the world’s biggest planes to serve what for now consists of a rundown casino and a golf course.

On February 20, 2020, Gregory B. Poling, Director of the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, testified before the U.S. - China Economic and Security Review Commission that "That project is officially an international airport servicing the Koh Kong resort that Chinese investors control along the nearby coastline. But the civilian rationale doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The airstrip is 3,400 meters long, which is bigger than the Phnom Penh International Airport’s and defies explanation given that the resort has been unable to attract much business in the first place. It has also been argued that, based on satellite imagery, the aircraft turning bays being built at Dara Sakor are too small for commercial airliners and appear to be intended for fighter jets."

Awidely circulated report from News.com.au, a division of News Corp Australia, was published on Feb. 8, 2020, and was subsequently shared around the national security and defense online community. The story claimed that an airfield that is under construction near Cambodia's Dara Sakor Seashore Resort is actually a Chinese Air Base.

But Tyler Rogoway countered that "While it is possible that Chinese military aircraft will use the base when it is completed, we see no obvious signs of that at present. ... This passage is littered with laughably reaching and flat-out inaccurate assumptions. A roughly 10,000-foot is not uncommon at airports that will be able to accommodate airliners, especially in an area of the world that experiences high temperatures year-round. "

UDG-funded activities have forced Cambodians from their land and devastated the environment, hurting the livelihoods of local communities, all under the guise of converting Cambodia into a regional logistics hub and tourist destination. As is too often the case with Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, these activities have disproportionately benefitted the PRC, at the expense of the Cambodian people.

Of additional concern are media reports that the Cambodian government spokesperson, Phay Siphan, said that Dara Sakor could be converted to host military assets. A permanent PRC military presence in Cambodia could threaten regional stability and undermine the prospects for the peaceful settlement of disputes, the promotion of maritime safety and security, and the freedom of navigation and overflight.

On 15 September 2020 the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated one Chinese state-owned entity, Union Development Group Co., Ltd. (UDG), for seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’ land for the construction of the Dara Sakor development project. OFAC designated this People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-owned entity pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption, and their supporters.

“After falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity in order to receive land for the Dara Sakor development project, UDG reverted to its true ownership and continued to operate without repercussions,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States is committed to using the full range of its authorities to target these practices wherever they occur.” In addition, the land provided to UDG extends into Botum Sakor National Park, a protected natural area that can only be handed over by royal decree. In order to receive the land, UDG registered itself as a Cambodian-owned company, headed by a Cambodian national, but nevertheless within three years of receiving the land, UDG switched back to being a Chinese-owned and operated company without repercussion.

Fu Xianting, also known as Big Brother Fu, is a former PLA officer whose business interests have been greased by his “family-like” relationship to Hun Sen and key members of his inner circle.41 In 2009, Hun Sen helped Fu and his company win a 99-year lease for a 3,300-hectare concession to build a $5 billion resort on Cambodia’s coast. The government granted the concession for Cambodia's bid to be 'New Macau' after Fu’s company made a series of donations to Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, a 3,000-strong private army.

UDG is a PRC state-owned entity acting for or on behalf of the PRC official that, on May 9, 2008, was granted a 99-year lease with the Cambodian government for 36,000 hectares (approximately 90,000 acres) of land in the Koh Kong province of Cambodia. Following the approved lease, UDG began to develop the $3.8 billion Dara Sakor project, ostensibly to be used as a tourism development. The size of the development is in violation of Cambodian law, which limits land concessions to 10,000 hectares.

Additionally, UDG, through Kim, used Cambodian military forces to intimidate local villagers and to clear out land necessary for UDG to build the Dara Sakor project. Kim was instrumental in the UDG development and reaped significant financial benefit from his relationships with UDG. Specifically, with the assistance of Cambodian military forces provided through Kim, UDG prevented local villagers from planting rice paddy fields on the disputed land and was also accused of burning down the houses of villagers with whom it had conflicts, and of using private security and Cambodian military forces to control the movements of local villagers. Both the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Cambodia’s Council of Ministers asked UDG to stop using Cambodian military forces to take land from the Cambodian people. Cambodia’s Council of Ministers issued a directive ordering UDG to stop destroying villagers’ property; however, UDG ignored the directive and continued the destruction.

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Page last modified: 20-09-2020 12:59:20 ZULU