US Sanctions Chinese Company Developing Resort in Cambodia

The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed economic sanctions on a Chinese company that operates in Cambodia, citing its land seizure and displacement of families to make way for a $3.8 billion luxury gambling and lifestyle project.The Dara Sakor Seashore Resort, developed by the Chinese company Union Development Group (UDG) in unspoiled Koh Kong province, includes an international airport and a port for cruise ships that “credible reports” suggested could be used by the Chinese military.The company describes the undertaking as part of FILE – The airport construction site is seen in the area developed by China company Union Development Group at Botum Sakor in Koh Kong province, Cambodia, in 2018.The U.S. has alleged that UDG operated as a Cambodian entity under the aegis of Gen. Kun Kim, a close ally of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. He allegedly used the military’s right to seize land for its needs to move local people off the area UDG wanted for its resort project.In its statement to Fresh News, the company defended Kun Kim, saying “During the relocation, UDG respected and followed Cambodian law and lease terms by working with inter-ministerial commission without committing any wrongdoings through General Kun Kim.”The U.S. sanctioned the senior general, his wife and two children on December 9, 2019, for “his involvement in corruption,” according to the Treasury. Kim was allegedly using his influence and network to benefit Chinese companies in Cambodia.“After falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity in order to receive land for the Dara Sakor development project, UDG reverted to its true ownership and continued to operate without repercussions,”  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.“We will not tolerate these actions against innocent people and will always stand with the Cambodian people,” Pompeo tweeted soon after the sanction announcement.On Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh posted FILE – Baby clouded leopards, born early in March 2015, at the Olmense Zoo in Olmen, Belgium, April 16, 2015. Clouded leopards are among the animals that reside in Botum Sakor National Park in Cambodia.“This is a partial justice,” said Mu Sochua, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. “The real justice is to give our farmers and fishermen their land, but at least they’ve received partial justice now. At the same time, this demonstrated that the U.S. joins us in demanding an end to impunity, which means taking those perpetrators to face justice, if not in our court system, but under the U.S. system.”The U.S. alleges that Cambodia uses development project such as UDG to expand its sphere of influence in the world, especially through its Belt and Road Initiative. The U.S. raised the alarm last year after media reports quoted the Cambodian government spokesperson, Phay Siphan, as saying that Dara Sakor could be converted to host military assets.“A permanent PRC military presence in Cambodia could threaten regional stability and undermine the prospects for the peaceful settlement of disputes, the promotion of maritime safety and security, and the freedom of navigation and overflight,” the statement from the Treasury Department said.Phay Siphan said he never acknowledged that the UDG project could be retooled as a Chinese military base.“I reject the report that implicated my name in it,” Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer. “It’s shameful because I’ve never said that.”  In July 2019, he told Bloomberg, “Dara Sakor is civilian ⁠— there is no base at all. It could be converted, yes, but you could convert anything.”Expanding influenceCPP spokesperson Sok Eysan also asserted that the government wanted to create an economic zone in the Dara Sakor area, and had no intention of the facilities becoming a military base for any superpower.“Cambodia does not seek to be a military power,” Sok Eysan said. “We only want to ensure a sustainable economy to feed 16 million people. … Therefore, we’re trying our best to develop the country. We do not want war to come to Cambodia.”Cambodia has allied with China as Beijing is expanding its sphere of influence in the region without many challenges from competing powers other than the U.S.Under President Xi Jinping, China has sought to expand its political, military, cultural, and economic dominance through bilateral aid and mega development projects like the Belt and Road Initiative that includes the Dara Sakor Seashore Resort.Ro Vannak, a geopolitical expert and the co-founder of the Cambodia Institute of Democracy, believes that a U.S. sanction on a Chinese company in Cambodia is part of Washington’s strategy to curb China’s emergence as a regional power.“The sanction on a Chinese company in Cambodia is a sign that makes Cambodia uneasy,” said Ro Vannak. “This means that once superpowers start to compete, push, and splash water at each other, smaller countries that rely on them economically, especially on China, would find their reputation and economic growth is affected.”This report originated with VOA’s Khmer Service. Men Kimseng reported from Washington, D.C., Hul Reaksmey and Aun Chhengpor reported from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.