US can criticise Cambodia all it wants, but don’t expect Phnom Penh’s help

One minute Washington is imposing an arms embargo, the next it wants Phnom Penh’s help on Myanmar – but the US cannot have it both ways. With China’s backing, Cambodia has little incentive to moderate its behaviour and any leverage the US has will inevitably decline as time goes by.

As Cambodia is increasingly pulled into China’s orbit, the United States should refrain from punishing Phnom Penh while simultaneously expecting it to help.

This is especially true when Washington needs Cambodia’s cooperation – as it chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2022 – to counter Chinese influence in the region.

Last week, Washington imposed an arms embargo on Cambodia, citing concerns about human rights, corruption and China’s growing influence in the country. It said the move was aimed at restricting access to dual-use items and “defence articles and defence services” by Cambodia’s military and intelligence agencies.

In response, Cambodian leader Hun Sen ordered the military to put all such weapons and military equipment into storage or “simply smash them”. US weapons were used by “losers of the war in Afghanistan”, the strongman said in a mocking Facebook post.

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