Intelligence Firm Scrutinized Cambodia’s US-China Relations

A cache of emails from global intelligence company Stratfor, which was released by anti-secrecy group Wikileaks on Monday, contains insights into Cambodia’s relations with China at a time in 2010 when then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an official visit to Phnom Penh.

About 7,000 of the more than 5 million emails sent between July 2004 and December 2011 by employees of Stratfor, an intelligence contractor based in Texas, include references to Cambodia, and also highlight the impact on Cambodia of stressed relations between Vietnam and China and the likelihood of social unrest in the country.

A number of the emails include in-depth analysis, citing unnamed sources inside and outside Cambodia, that show Cambodia as being at the center of increasingly contentious relationships between global and regional powers.

During a visit by Ms. Clinton to Phnom Penh in October 2010, Stratfor was working on an analysis of the implications of “Renewed U.S. Outreach to Cambodia,” symbolized by the high-profile U.S. delegation.

“Clinton’s visit comes as China is becoming more assertive in its periphery. China has a strong foothold in Cambodia, and the United States is attempting to counterbalance Beijing’s influence in the country,” a draft of the analysis dated November 2 states.

“Engaging a country where China has such strong influence will require more effort and strategy, and the result of such efforts is not clear. However, Cambodia could benefit from even the initial steps of U.S. re-engagement,” the Stratfor analysis says.

“Though Cambodia stands to gain from Washington’s re-engagement with Phnom Penh, it must be cautious in managing the balance between China and the United States. Cambodia clearly does not want to jeopardize its relations with China, especially without concrete plans and a preferable offer from the United States,” it adds.

In a separate analysis, a draft of which is titled Vietnam’s China Dilemma and prepared by Stratfor Asia Pacific analyst Zhixing Zhang in June 2011, Cambodia is placed at the center of a regional rivalry be­tween China and Vietnam.

“For this part, another imperative for Vietnam is to expand its strategic buffer, which means securing South China Sea in the east and extending influence to Laos and Cambodia in Indochina in the west. However, Viet­nam’s strategies are also encountering with increasing competing interest from Beijing,” Ms. Zhixing writes.

The analysis goes on to describe that although Vietnam had a huge amount of leverage in Cambodia in the 1980s after overthrowing the Khmer Rouge, “Beijing kept [a] stable relation with both Laos’ communism leadership and Cambodia’s Hun Sen regime.

“While Hanoi may avoid direct competition with China on economic front, rising political influence from Beijing would certainly put Vietnam at an uneasy position,” it says.

It also adds that China’s heavy use of cash diplomacy jeopardize, “Ha­noi’s capability to retain influence in the long term.”

In an email dated March 1, 2011, Matt Gertken, an Asia Pacific analyst for Stratfor, responds to questions about the stability of Cambodia, writing that due to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s tight grip on all parts of society, there is little threat of unrest in the country.

“[The potential for protests to emerge is] pretty minimal, despite the grounds being there: Hun Sen has been there for 26 years, there is rampant corruption and nepotism, and Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet appears to be groomed to take over a la [former Libyan leader Muam­mar el-] Quaddafi’s son,” the email says.

“The economy is doing very well. Yes, there’s inflation and some unemployment but relatively speaking its tolerable given where Cambodia is coming from,” it continues.

“But Hun Sen could bring [protests] upon himself by his self-ag­grandizement and nepotism etc., much as in Tunisia where the economy was doing quite well and things were stable, but people just don’t like dictators and sooner or later they all go,” it continues.

“At least Hun Sen goes to the polls in general [elections] every four years or so, much like [Malaysia and Singapore], so that’s an escape valve,” the email says.

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