US Official Warns Cambodia Over China Ties, Human Rights

Can Washington promote human rights and draw Cambodia out of Beijing’s orbit – at the same time?

During a visit to Cambodia, a senior U.S. diplomat expressed “serious concerns” about China’s growing military influence in the country, while calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to end a years-long political crackdown that has cowed most meaningful sources of opposition.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman yesterday became the most senior U.S. official to visit Cambodia since U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012. During a one-day stop in Phnom Penh, part of a diplomatic tour that will also take her to Bangkok and Jakarta, Sherman held a two-hour meeting with Hun Sen, which she described on Twitter as “candid.”

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia in various guises since 1985, during which time he has gradually tightened the screws on his opponents, while gravitating toward China for diplomatic and financial backing. Over the past few years, the U.S. has become alarmed by numerous reports, of varying degrees of credibility, that China is seeking a permanent military presence on Cambodian soil, either at the Ream Naval Base, on the country’s south coast, or at a Chinese-funded tourism mega-complex nearby.

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