PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) – Cambodia was dismissed Thursday as “politically motivated” sanctions imposed by the United States on two senior defense officials on transplant charges, accompanied by a broader warning of systemic corruption in the Southeast Asian nation.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia was not given advance notice of the sanctions related to the construction financing of the Ream Naval Base – a project that has raised concerns in the US about China’s involvement. He said Cambodia has no intention of responding to Washington.
“The sanctions imposed by the US government were unilateral and their decision was not based on the rule of law – it is an injustice for Cambodia,” he told The Associated Press.
“These sanctions were politically motivated and it is not Cambodia’s position to speak to the US about this matter,” he said.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh did not want to comment on whether Cambodia had contacted about the sanctions, but said the move did not come as a surprise.
“US officials have regularly raised concerns about systemic corruption, cross-border organized crime and human rights violations with Cambodia officials,” said embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier.
“Unfortunately, there have been no notable changes,” he added.
The sanctions announced by the Treasury Department on Wednesday are aimed at Chau Phirun, director general of the Department of Material and Technical Services at the Department of Defense, and Tea Vinh, commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy and brother of Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh.
The Treasury Department claimed that Chau conspired with Tea and other Cambodian officials in 2020 and 2021 to increase the cost of the Ream Naval Base construction project and then planned to use the funds for their own benefit.
“Chau and Tea were involved in corrupt acts that undermined the rule of law and the trust of the Cambodian public in their government institutions and public processes, including by using their political influence and official power for personal gain,” said the US spokesman State Department, Ned Price in a statement.
Neither the Cambodian Ministry of Defense nor the Royal Cambodian Navy were immediately available for comment.
The sanctions ban Chau, Tea and their immediate family members from entering the US and freeze any assets they own in the US. The Treasury Department did not disclose whether an individual or their immediate families had financial interests in the United States
In addition to the sanctions, the Treasury Department, State Department and Commerce Department issued a corporate advisory warning US companies to “watch out for interactions with companies involved in corrupt business practices, criminal activity and human rights abuses.”
She identified two main areas of risk: illicit financial activities in the finance, real estate, casino and infrastructure sectors, as well as companies involved in human, wildlife and narcotics trafficking, and “related risks in some areas of the manufacturing and timber sectors”.
American relations with the government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in office for 36 years, have long been frosty over concerns over the country’s poor human and political record.
In recent months, the US has expressed further concerns about Cambodia-China relations, calling on the Cambodian leadership, which often supports Beijing’s positions, to maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy.
New tensions have focused, in part, on China’s construction of facilities at Ream Naval Base and the possibility that its military may seek future support rights there. Hun Sen ruled on reports that Cambodia would allow China to set up a military outpost there and said such an agreement would be forbidden under the Cambodian constitution.
The base is on the Gulf of Thailand, which borders the South China Sea, and having bases in Cambodia would greatly expand Beijing’s strategic military profile.
At a meeting with Hun Sen in June, US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman expressed concern about China’s construction of new facilities in Ream.
She also asked for clarification about the demolition of two US-funded buildings in Ream without notice or explanation and “observed that a (Chinese) military base in Cambodia is undermining its sovereignty, threatening regional security and negatively affecting US relations and Cambodia ”. to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.