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Cambodia - Foreign Relations

For a more than 25 years, the West has helped rebuild Cambodia as it recovered from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The United States and Europe sent billions of dollars in aid to help transform Cambodia into a liberal democracy, an effort that has largely failed.

Cambodia was heavily reliant on foreign assistance -- about half of the central government budget depends on donor assistance, and as much as one tenth of gross national product. The Royal Cambodian Government [RGC] has participated in preparing innumerable plans which reflect state-of-the-art thinking in the international donor community, and are rich in rhetoric on such themes as good governance, transparency, accountability and participation. In most cases, reform plans are little more than a studied attempt to tell international donors what they want to hear. Even cursory examination of the reality behind the rhetoric reveals neither substance nor political will. The RGC continues to use a broad array of tactics to divert reform-minded donors. Despite the fact that donors account for half of the annual budget of the RGC, most reform efforts have had limited impact on a persistent, less-than-scrupulous opponent. The RGC readily agrees to accept donor projects, particularly when they include such benefits as study trips and perhaps funds that can be diverted. But some projects stretch out over a remarkably long time without observable results.

Cambodia has demonstrated time and again that it will work with any government that shows its dedication to Cambodian development, preferably on Cambodian terms. Taiwan for many years was a welcome addition to the donor and business community in Phnom Penh because of its contributions. (In 1997, the RGC reversed its stand and has since announced full support for a one-China policy.) Nations that bring investors or donations flourish and have a certain degree of access and influence. However, when Cambodian national finances or sovereignty are at stake, the RGC has shown that it can be a tough negotiator with all friends. As an active member of the WTO and ASEAN -- and more recently a contributor of peacekeeping troops to the UN -- Cambodia is intent on developing an outward-looking foreign policy that not only ensures legitimacy in the world community but protects against entangling alliances.

Most nations do not pay close attention to Cambodia's domestic politics, nor do they turn to Cambodia as a country which shapes solutions for problematic issues. While Cambodia has interests , it does not hold the power to carry out, or even express, these interests. The RCAF conducts foreign defense cooperation with a variety of countries with and outside the region, including (in order of assessed value) Vietnam, China, Australia, France, the US, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and India.

One security issue facing Cambodia is the use of the Mekong River system. Countries through which this river flows exploit this river considerably for their economic development. Worryingly, the physical condition of this river is in a dilapidated state. Cambodia remains concerned about the continuing construction of dams on this river by China, the absence of management in the irrigation systems and the contamination of its water due to industrial waste. Her people rely on the river to harvest food, drink and irrigate their crops. Cambodia believes that only through an effective Mekong River Basin Commission, providing mutual understanding and respect of the laws of water between countries situated along the river, which will result in the sustainment of all areas of the river resources, can this vitally important ecosystem be maintained into the future.

Cambodia, being an essentially agrarian country with more than 80 per cent of its population whose livelihood depended on farming, is extremely vulnerable to weather-related calamities. Fully aware of vulnerability in that regard, the country had been assuming its share of responsibility towards global warming since 2003, and had made its utmost efforts to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol by promoting Clean Development Mechanism projects, as well as implementing the national adaptation program of action on climate change. It had also launched a reforestation campaign.

Terrorism had been threatening everywhere, causing deaths among the innocent. To fight terrorism more effectively, greater and closer cooperation was needed among the many authorities concerned in order to face up to those criminal activities against humanity. At the same time, there were countries that had the capacity to produce nuclear weapons that had not yet signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The dissemination of weapons of mass destruction constituted another massive deadly menace to humanity.

On the Middle East conflict, Cambodia believes that the international community has to help find a viable solution which could bring about a lasting peace to the region. Violence is not a solution in whatever form. On the contrary, violence appeals more violence. The Palestinian people have an inalienable right to dispose its own state living in peace with Israel. Both sides must have the wisdom to understand that they are condemned to live side by side forever. Therefore, it is better for both sides to remain at peace with each other than to engage in war.

On the Kashmir problem, Cambodia believes that there is a need to avoid the escalation of this conflict. If not properly managed, the Kashmir conflict could seriously escalate and thus threaten regional peace and security, not only in South Asia but also in Southeast Asia. The world must do what can be done to ensure that the terrorists would not seize the opportunity of this conflict to further complicate the present situation.

Cambodia supports reforming the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council. Cambodia believes that the UN cannot continue to operate in the current modus operandi, if we wanted to further improve this important global institution in order to truly reflect the twenty-first century's needs and political realities of the world today, which should be amended as early as possible. Any attempt to further delay the UN reform will only undermine the credibility of this universal institution.

Cambodia has called for an expansion of the UN Security Council to include other new members. In this regard, Cambodia would support Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany and India as the new permanent members of the UN Security Council, taking into consideration of the increasing political and economic role of these countries in world affairs. Cambodia believes that the current members of the UN Security Council should be more willing to compromise and support such a call as the only way to effectively support the UN reform.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with most countries, including the United States. The country is a member of most major international organizations, including the UN and its specialized agencies, and became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1998. Cambodia is a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). On October 13, 2004, Cambodia became the 148th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

China and Vietnam are the major players, with programs in excess of USD 3 million annually each, and are generally in competition with each other for influence. Instead of fighting directly with one another, China and Vietnam opted to use Cambodia as its ideological battleground. China aligned itself with Democratic Kampuchea, led by the Khmer Rouge, while Vietnam remained this regime‘s most vocal critic and enemy. Vietnam finally invaded Cambodia and quickly took over the country in January 1979, and China launched an attack and invaded North Vietnam.

Cambodians, with the help of the Vietnamese, expunged the genocidal Khmer Rouge from their midst. The US and China took Cold War positions in favor of a coalition that included the Khmer Rouge. As his many speeches attest (including one in early December 2008), Hun Sen does not forget -- the RGC inherently does not trust its big friends, China included. Cambodia will continue to play its balancing act among great powers as it charts its own course in the future.

When Hun Sen was Foreign Minister one of his great achievements was to secure the neutral stance of the Non-Aligned Movement towards Cambodia's membership in the United Nations. At the time, the newly formed People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) supported by tens of thousands of Vietnamese troops, was desperately seeking international legitimacy, including membership in the UN, then held by the Democratic Kampuchea of the Khmer Rouge. However, in 1979 the U.S. would not back the Vietnamese-supported PRK and China, which had just concluded a border war with Vietnam, sided with the US. The Democratic Kampuchea flag of the Khmer Rouge flew over the United Nations until 1991. Hun Sen often cites this moment in history as one indication of the flaws of the UN, and by inference, of its two leading P-5 Security Council members.

Following these 1979 wars, cooperation increased and the heated rhetoric which once dominated political speeches has cooled. As one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, Cambodia heavily depends on financial assistance from both China and Vietnam, and in an increasingly globalized world, Cambodia is affected by the decisions China and Vietnam make. Thus, Cambodia must try to ensure that Sino-Vietnamese relations remain healthy in order to maintain the regional balance of power, while posturing itself to be as powerful as possible.

China spared no effort in celebrating the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations with Cambodia in 2008. This elaborate and lavish effort to court Cambodia's top leadership -- with royal banquets, trips to Beijing, the first-ever visit by a Chinese warship, and high-level visitors -- revealled a China set on achieving a new apogee in relations with Cambodia and by extension, with Southeast Asia. Cambodia's primary response to these overtures has been to cite China as a model of "blank check" diplomacy but simultaneously to maintain a steely pragmatism by which Cambodia balances China with others, including the US.

Cambodia paid attention to ASEAN and ASEAN + 3 as the first priority in its foreign policy. Within ASEAN, the integration of ASEAN was regarded as top priority. Over the past 30 years, ASEAN has established a mechanism for cooperation and consultation by maintaining a close relationship with its partners through ARF, APEC, ASEM and ASEAN Dialogue Partners. Cambodia’s membership in ASEAN, the assistance from the world community, and its political stability and internal security are supporting the possibility of the country's economic prosperity.

Border disputes with neighboring countries are a long-standing historic legacy that continues to this day. All these disputes have arisen from unclear demarcation of the border line and other problems resulting from joint ventures and exploitation of natural maritime resources. When there are conflicts, Cambodia has opted for negotiations to discuss and settle these problems. Nevertheless, this option does not preclude the presence of military forces on the border. The impact of many years of protracted war has meant that some areas have not been under the control of one administration, especially in provinces adjacent to the border, resulting in Cambodia having temporarily lost some control over its borders.

The signing of a supplementary treaty to the 1985 State Border Demarcation Agreement by the heads of state of the Kingdom of Cambodia and of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was an historic and positive contribution to the process of defining a clear border between the two countries for the future.

Cambodia and Thailand are at diplomatic loggerheads over the appointment of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser to Hun Sen. Both countries have withdrawn their ambassadors over Thaksin, who is wanted in Thailand on corruption charges. In 2011 Thailand and Cambodia resorted to arms in the dispute over the location of the boundary on the precipice surmounted by Preah Vihear temple ruins, awarded to Cambodia by ICJ decision in 1962 and part of a planned UN World Heritage site.

Relations between Cambodia and Laos are generally good. Despite some uncertainties occurring in the northern border regions of Cambodia, these issues are currently being resolved in a peaceful manner.

France has had traditional cooperation with Cambodia in many areas. France maintains active military cooperation in the fields of training of cadet officers, training of the Royal Gendarmerie and the offer of training for the Ministry of Interior. Currently, France and the European Union are focusing on the reconstruction of Cambodia. Cambodia believes that this increase in France and European Union assistance will be of benefit to the whole nation as well as Ministry of National Defense.

Australia continues to provide assistance programs to many areas such as human resource education, agriculture, health care, criminal justice, mine clearance, and DCP. Resuming defense assistance in mid-1999, Australia changed the objective of its DCP by focusing on the development of strategic policy documents including the Defense White Paper, professional military education and training, English-language training and military medical assistance. Cambodia's Ministry of National Defense will continue its close relations with Australia in order to extend military cooperation in other fields such as military skills training, and other mutually agreed possibilities for Cambodian military servicemen.

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Page last modified: 27-07-2018 23:52:28 ZULU