Cambodian soldiers stand by as Chinese naval vessels dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, January 2019. Photo: Twitter

With the disappearance of Cambodia’s sovereignty over its prime seaside as reflected in Australia’s incessant media coverage highlighting Canberra’s concerns that China is “taking over” Sihanoukville for a military base, now is the right time to remind Australia and the international community: We told you so!

As Australia continues to “monitor” the situation, the only thing that innocent Cambodians can say now is, “Don’t cry for me.”

Australia’s knee-jerk political concerns have been met with the Hun Sen regime’s denials, lies and uncooperative responses. One Australian media outlet ran the headline “Australian government unconvinced by Cambodia’s denials over Chinese military base.”

But since when have Hun Sen and his lawmakers been sources of truth, transparency and legitimacy? To put it another way, since when is Hun Sen a genuine politician? Politicians have a nation’s interest at heart. Hun Sen and his associates trade off sovereignty for power and cash.

There is no known authoritarian regime in modern times that inflicts violence on its own people and at the same time compromises its sovereignty under the pretext of economic development, peace and prosperity, as Cambodia’s regime has under Hun Sen.

Too late for ‘monitoring’ or ‘concern’

This author has consistently called for urgent action to curb the rise of authoritarian forces in Cambodia. In one article for Asia Times, I urged last year: “As Cambodia is now under a state of kleptocracy, the international community must act before we see Chinese tanks and artillery being paraded on the streets of Phnom Penh.”

Since then, Canberra and the international community have been getting away with mere skittering noises. Unsurprisingly, when Australia speaks up, Hun Sen treats its concerns with contempt. Meanwhile China’s grip on Cambodia has tightened and Hun Sen’s benefits from trading off Cambodia’s sovereignty has gone unchecked.

Victims are experts on Cambodian tragedy

Cambodians watch with resentment as Hong Kong protesters wave US flags, yet Hun Sen would ensure that Chinese flags adorned his “Kingdom of Wonders.” So far China has yet to condemn Hongkongers as “traitors” – the charge that Hun Sen often links to Cambodians when his authority is being challenged.

As the international community and cognoscenti weighed up the options, victims of Cambodia’s past horrors knew it was only a matter of time before the cries against the suffering inflicted by Pol Pot would be repeated under Hun Sen. But this time, instead of genocide and mass killing, China’s economic colonization will further reduce Cambodia as a vassal state.

After many decades of customary knee-jerk political statements without genuine commitments to resolving the underlining cause of Cambodia’s authoritarianism, Hun Sen and his regime have learned to be a “constructive partner.” Western values, as Hun Sen tells himself, are to “engage and cooperate” with words and superficial actions.

China’s surge of power in Cambodia did not come overnight. Nor did Hun Sen’s repugnant attitude toward the West.

In the face of Hun Sen terrorizing Cambodians and playing with fire by partnering with China for economic progress, Australia’s words, once seen as influential and powerful, have now lost their meaning.

Curbing Hun Sen’s illegitimacy

So far the United Nations and the international community continue to lend authority to Cambodia’s tyrannical leadership, and have not declared Hun Sen’s authoritarianism illegal. This silence has allowed Hun Sen to continue committing crimes against his own people, even if it means trading off the nation’s sovereignty for cash and military hardware from China.

In the end, Hun Sen’s so-called “national” armed forces are merely private contractors, trained by Australia and other countries, working to protect China’s interest as opposed to Cambodia’s sovereignty and interests.

And that is the difference between Cambodia’s authoritarian state and others. Despite gross human-rights violations by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippine, he is yet to sell off an inch of his islands to China, let alone an entire province as in the case of Hun Sen.

Early this month, I wrote to a joint delegation of the 29th Australian-US Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN), including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Defense Minister Linda Reynolds and representatives of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging the parties “to raise the issue of Cambodia’s armed forces being used by Hun Sen to crush democracy, as the country is now being served for China, in the same way as Pol Pot’s atrocious regime.”

After the meeting, a joint statement relating to Cambodia was raised at the AUSMIN meeting, noting: “The Ministers and Secretaries expressed concern about the potential establishment of new military bases that could undermine stability and sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific region. They exchanged views on recent reports, such as in relation to Cambodia, and undertook to remain in close contact on developments.”

Sihanoukville – China’s de facto economic state

The rate at which the current regime is trading Cambodia’s sovereignty to China and other entities in exchange for money and power, means Cambodians are becoming a minority on their own land. Cambodian beaches are no longer theirs. Their land can now be “legally” confiscated on Hun Sen’s order. Cambodia’s forests, rivers and mountains can now be sold off to Chinese firms – without checks and balances.

Hun Sen and his associates, through unconventional agreements, divide regions, waterways, mountains, and parks among his lawmakers, tycoons and military officers – no different from a mafia gang entering a negotiation to control territorial trading for protection by the mob.

The irony is, innocent Cambodians – law-abiding citizens whose aspirations under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords expected the rule of law would apply – have been left behind, to nothing more than tears of grief, pain and unspeakable suffering.

But don’t cry for me, because this is just the beginning.

In Hong Kong, the British colonized the territory based on rule of law. But in Sihanoukville, one can declare with certainty that it is an economic de facto province of China – the main architect of the Khmer Rouge genocide under Pol Pot, a regime from which Hun Sen rose from junior cadet to ruthless tyrant.

The price of trading off Cambodia’s sovereignty means Cambodia will become a breeding ground for sophisticated Chinese criminal networks – helped by the Hun Sen regime.

For now Hun Sen can do little to quell crime brought to Sihanoukville by Chinese tourists. Had the crimes been committed by local Cambodians, Hun Sen would ensure his trademark of being “a strongman” and would see them arrested, detained, and faced by his courts and “his” rule of law.

But for Chinese criminals, Hun Sen does little to sanction them. Just as China rewards him for selling off Cambodia’s sovereignty, in turn Hun Sen let off Chinese criminal tourists – by asking China to “take them back home.”

Cambodians cry for help

The injustice inflicted by Hun Sen toward Cambodians is of a proportion that should be declared an international crime.

One Australian paper, the Brisbane Times, recently reported, “Locals grumble, constantly, about the influx of Chinese money and the inflation it has caused.”

But don’t cry for me, Cambodia, if you are filled with environmental disaster as the result of the Hun Sen regime selling off its sovereignty.

The Brisbane Times reported, “Now, plastic waste and other rubbish from building sites litters the streets and vacant fields that wait to be developed, while many of the beaches are strewn with garbage that has either been dumped or washed ashore.”

Cambodia is once again being led by a force like that of Pol Pot, and if not stopped now, the tragedy will continue for many generations to come.

Cambodians can only be delivered when Hun Sen’s regime is declared an illegitimate government.

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