Cambodia’s recent increases in repression and human rights violations coincide with a strengthening of the country’s ties with China. With Cambodia currently leading the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the organization’s annual summit with the United States approaching May 12-13 at the White House, now is the time for the U.S. government to take stronger action on Cambodia’s crackdown and its not-unrelated courtship of China.
The summit provides an opportunity for the Biden administration to highlight the costs of allying with China and to demonstrate that the U.S. can be a viable alternative, not only providing significant aid, trade, and security benefits, but also tying these benefits to respect for values of democracy and human rights that ultimately would strengthen Cambodia.
Cambodian leader Hun Sen is the world’s longest-serving prime minister. While he has ruled with an iron fist, the last several years have seen a severe deterioration in human rights, including the escalating persecution of human rights defenders. Often these abuses take place with the complicity of the courts, most of which are effectively controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).