Controlling Southeast Asia – China’s Cambodian Dream Is Nothing But A Trap Of Asian Debt And Security Concerns

It is not news that China is trying to establish control and authority over world politics. It has gone to great lengths to develop and satisfy its hegemonic interests in Southeast Asia.

China’s Cambodian dream is a new link in the chain, a process of setting up outposts to control Southeast Asia. China’s upcoming naval base in Cambodia is an example of such an outpost.

The main factors behind China’s choice of Cambodia are the political context of good relations with the undemocratic Hun Sen regime in Cambodia, the economic context of being a country where Chinese investments are concentrated and where many Chinese companies/corporations have established operations, and the historical context of having unresolved land border demarcation issues with Vietnam, which is a Chinese rival in conflict over the South China Sea.

Stagnant Cambodia-US relations have also contributed to Chinese focus on influence. Relations between Cambodia and the United States were affected by the unilateral cancellation of the January 2017 joint military exercise “Angkor Sentinel” in Cambodia, followed by the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in late 2017. The United States has criticized the limitation of democracy, passed the Cambodia Democracy Act and imposed sanctions on Cambodian officials and businessmen.

Tensions also exist in Cambodia-Vietnam relations regarding the unfinished demarcation of their land border, ethnic Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia, and social perception of Vietnam’s role in Cambodia’s liberation from the Khmer Rouge. Consequently, China has sought to bolster Cambodia’s military might for its “offshore balancing” approach to “proxy warfare” instead of directly deploying or engaging the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or its navy (PLAN) in Cambodia.

I imagine this will strategically affect Beijing to prevent Hanoi from concentrating its strategic resources in the South China Sea. Also, in 2022, Cambodia will hold the presidency of ASEAN.

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Cambodia – China Proxy

During its last ASEAN presidency in 2012, Cambodia was branded a “proxy of China” due to its blatant pro-China stance. Beijing wants to divide ASEAN and sabotage its unity.

The establishment of a naval base in Cambodia also poses a significant security risk to South Asian countries. The modernization and expansion of Ream Naval Base will enable the Royal Cambodian Navy (RCN) to operate anti-ship and air defense missile carrier vessels such as China’s Type 22 (Houbei-class) missile boats ), Type 056 corvettes and Type 054A frigates. , unlike the current capabilities of the RCN which is only able to operate patrol boats without anti-ship missiles.

A secret agreement between Cambodia and the PRC probably exists and allows China to use certain facilities for military purposes; there will be regular stationings and stopovers of Chinese Navy ships, especially the Second Navy: Chinese Coast Guard Patrol Vessels, and the Third Navy: Maritime Militia Fishing Vessels. This would add a vital supply base for China, which is keen to prevent foreign economic activity within the “nine-dash line”, which is conveniently expanded and used by China without any clear definition. In this context, it is possible that Beijing will try to extend the “nine-dash line” as far west as the Gulf of Thailand.

The biggest problem, however, is that many large-scale infrastructure development projects are undertaken in Cambodia by the Chinese. For example, the Dara Sakor International Airport project (3,900 meter runway) of the Chinese group Union Development, and a 15 meter deep water port is under construction in Kampot; the port would allow Chinese aircraft carriers as well as Type 075 amphibious assault ships, Type 072A landing craft and fleet supply ships to navigate. It could help expand the scope of Chinese naval activities in the South China Sea and beyond.

China makes inroads

I think these developments will affect Vietnam the most, which is at odds with China over the South China Sea. In response to the reinforcement of the Cambodian navy, it will be essential for the Vietnamese navy to reinforce its forces within the fifth regional command, which has its headquarters on the island of Phu Quoc, near Cambodia.

It is pointed out that the Vietnamese maritime militia in the region is already being strengthened. If the Cambodian Navy is equipped with an operational capability of anti-ship missiles, it forces the Vietnamese side to expand its naval forces. It is possible that a regional naval arms race will be triggered.

China’s long-term interest is to promote the concept of the “Maritime Silk Road” to secure access to the Gulf of Thailand and project its power to the Indian Ocean through the Isthmus of Kula.

This has the geopolitical significance of securing alternative infrastructure in the Malacca-Singapore Strait for China, which wants to resolve the so-called “Malacca dilemma”, given its heavy reliance on crude oil imports (72% in 2021 ) and the fact that more than 65% of imported crude oil comes from countries in the Middle East and Africa via the Strait of Malacca-Singapore.

Even if fossil fuel imports from Russia increase after Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, China will need to continue increasing its crude oil imports from Middle Eastern and African countries to meet to its strong domestic demand.

Thus, in the long term, China’s interest in the Gulf of Thailand will increase, and China’s unilateral and assertive actions will increase not only in the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and Natuna Islands, but also in the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand.

China’s influence in ASEAN will be further enhanced with the approach of “money rule” and “gun rule” instead of “rule of law”. Thus, “like-minded” countries will not be able to counter this massive tsunami-like Chinese influence unless they collectively coordinate and manage their available assets, resources and funds.

In addition to security threats, it poses a huge economic threat to ASEAN countries. China’s influence on trade and FDI will increase decisively among some ASEAN countries.

China’s second proxy “Cambodia” may become a military power in the future due to its strategic calculus to attract Chinese trade, investment and technological support. This, however, would add to the confusion within ASEAN, which is unable to even come up with a unified policy on the South China Sea issue.

China is Cambodia’s main source of imports, accounting for 31% of total imports in 2020. On the other hand, the United States is Cambodia’s main source of exports, accounting for 25.2% of all exports the same year.

The deterioration of Cambodia’s relations with the United States, new economic sanctions and export restrictions by Washington will lead to the collapse of the Cambodian economy. This, in turn, further strengthens Chinese investors’ control over Cambodia’s resources.

Under the pretext of securing Chinese investments, more and more bases will be set up in Cambodia to further fuel tensions in the South China Sea and crush the sovereignty of ASEAN countries. It will turn Cambodia into a mercenary of China, a design meticulously carved out for Cambodia by China.

  • By Dr. Takashi Hosoda, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences. Hosoda is a Japanese international political scientist and specialist in security studies in the Czech Republic. His research focuses on China’s “multi-domain military-civilian fusion” warfare, Japanese-European maritime security/space security cooperation, Indo-Pacific theater security observation, including the East China Sea/South China Sea, as well as the possible Taiwan contingency.
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