A few months ago I wrote an article for the World Rainforest Movement announcing a new WRM report about tree plantations in Cambodia. The article looks at how aid agencies give hundreds of million of dollars every year to Cambodia. Every year they go through the ritual of asking the Hun Sen government not to trash the forests, to respect human rights and generally be a decent sort of chap. Hun Sen always agrees and the aid agencies hand over the cash.
I ended the article by asking why aid agencies continue to throw money at the Cambodian government, despite the government’s record of corruption, human rights abuses and forest destruction.
Here’s one reason. US Ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli, explains: “There’s an increasing sense in Washington that things are going the right way in Cambodia, so we want to encourage that.” In other words, Cambodia isn’t Burma. Not quite, at least.
And here’s another reason: the Western aid agencies are worried that Hun Sen will turn to China for the financial support that keeps him in power.
In April 2006, during a weekend visit, China’s premier Wen Jiabao gave US$600 million in loans and grants to Cambodia. There are no conditions. Almost half the money will go on construction of a hydropower dam in southwestern Cambodia. Another US$200 million will go on two bridges across the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers.
While there may be no human rights or environmental conditions attached to the money, China is not just giving the money away. According to the Financial Times China is “keen to negotiate access to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s strategically located deep-sea port, as part of its widening efforts to secure sea lanes in south-east Asia, the main gateway for China’s fuel imports.”