Monday, May 3, 2010

257 Military Trucks on the Political Chessboard

The U. S. had recently announced that it would withhold a shipment of used military trucks as Cambodia had purportedly not abided by international law and its own agreements when it extradited 20 Uygurs back to China. The Uyghurs, as we all know, are a persecuted Muslim minority in NE China whose religious and political freedom have been restricted by the Chinese government. However, Uyghur groups also staged a number of terrorist attacks in the 1990s in their fight for autonomy from China. Consequently, the Chinese government labels those groups terrorists. In 2007 Chinese troops killed 18 Uyghurs and claimed that Uyghurs planned to sabotage and disrupt the 2008 Olympics.

It was on those terrorist grounds that China requested the extradition of those Uyghur refugees from Cambodia. Cambodia obliged and promptly sent them back. Although it was claimed that this was in no way connected to the deportation of those Uyghurs, the subsequent Chinese aid agreements with Cambodia worth 1.2 billion may be subject to one’s individual interpretation.

Now, the previous U. S. government had detained 22 Uyghurs in Guantanamo until Nov. 2009 when 9 of them were released and sent to Palau. Previously five had been sent to Albania. See for exact details.

It must be borne in mind that despite the U. S.’s claim that they were enemy combatants and, therefore, had no right to due process, it was clear to people familiar with their history that they were caught in the crossfire of the war on terror in Afghanistan and were held on the mere suspicion of being Al Qaida fighters – no hard evidence was ever presented. Human Rights organizations had clamored for their release, just as they condemned Cambodia for that deportation for the same reason.

Although there has been a new U. S. administration in office, observers know that much of George Bush’s policies are continued under Barack Obama. It does seem hypocritical at best and downright cynical when the U. S. government, and it doesn’t matter which administration it is, condemns other nations for human rights abuses (which admittedly exist in Cambodia), but continues to infringe, curtail, or abrogates rights altogether itself.

On the occasion of the Shanghai expo the Chinese government now pledged to donate 257 brand-new (not used) military trucks to Cambodia. You can’t blame Cambodia for taking them. After all, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, do you? But some are busy saying Cambodia is playing a dangerous game, obviously remembering Sihanouk’s seesaw tactics, which in the end led to his downfall in 1970. Although it looks somewhat similar, the circumstances are vastly different. At that time, the Americans wanted to contain and push back Communism. Now it is about regional economic dominance. Let’s face it the U. S. is not a major player in Cambodia. That role has long been taken over by the Chinese, followed by the South Koreans. The Chinese don’t so much look at the Americans as their main rival in the region as at Vietnam, which also has very close ties to both Cambodia and Laos and likes to play that game. I would say it is just a plain old thumbing of the nose at the Americans when Cambodia accepted that generous gift. Calling this rivalry a power struggle is a bit of a stretch, Mr. Ou Virak. Cambodia has taken a side some time ago. The government accepts everything it can get their hands on, especially if there are no strings attached. If the Chinese are the ones handing the goodies over, so much so good. If it’s the American, just as well. But so far, the Americans have noticeably been absent from that game. They leave the field to the Chinese and others.

The U. S. is busy getting its economy back on track, they have their hands full with the drawing down of troops in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the nuclear threat of Iran, not to mention huge oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, immigration reform, to name a few. Cambodia is certainly not one of their political or economic priorities. As for sphere of influence, the U. S. lost that a long time ago after the debacle of the Vietnam War, although it is slowly clawing its way back into the Vietnamese economy, but it is far from its previous dominance, in not only SE Asia, but the world as a whole.

China has become an economic world power; without it, the global economy would grind to a standstill. So those 257 trucks are nothing in the great scheme of things. Hey, and these are new. The Americans just wanted to get rid of their old junk. How generous!

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