Cambodia is being bullied by the US because it refuses to follow the US line on China

Cambodia is Southeast Asia's most pro-Beijing country, and it is cautious of America for good reason, but Washington isn't pleased. As a result, it is now threatening penalties against one of the region's poorest countries.

Cambodia's recent past has been sad and tumultuous. The Khmer Rouge's atrocities, an intra-Communist proxy war sponsored by China and Vietnam, and a brief restoration to democracy and constitutional monarchy characterize the country's current politics. It is only one of several countries that have struggled to create a permanent form of life after independence from colonization.

As a result, Hun Sen, the country's leader since 1985, has been able to extend his 36-year reign. In doing so, he has wrested control of Cambodia from Vietnam's long-held grip and shifted Cambodia's focus to Beijing.

As a tiny, impoverished, and authoritarian-leaning country, Cambodia is perhaps the most pro-China country in Southeast Asia today, which is crucial in light of America's increased presence in the area to challenge Beijing. China accounted for 70% of Cambodia's infrastructure investment and 45 percent of the country's total foreign direct investment as of last year.

With a tiny coastline and a skepticism of Hanoi, Phnom Penh is not a party to the South China Sea conflicts and so has no need to hedge military ties with the US, as several coastal regional nations have done. Instead, it has been content to embrace China as a source of political and economic assistance. Last year, the two countries inked a bilateral trade agreement.

As one might expect, the US is not happy about this. As a tiny nation with strong ties to China, Washington's foreign policy is increasingly focused on trying to intimidate or force Cambodia to embrace its foreign policy objectives.

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of US senators led by Marco Rubio, Dick Durbin, and Ed Markey introduced the “Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act,” which calls for sanctions against Cambodian officials for alleged human rights violations as well as an investigation into “China's activities in Cambodia.”

It's clear geopolitical opportunism, and it comes as the US demands that Cambodia grant them full access to investigate a naval station there that they claim is being utilized by China. Although Phnom Penh has refused, the US demand is a frightening move that puts the country in an increasingly precarious situation. It's also arrogant because Washington feels it has the right to militarise the entire area, erecting military bases all around China, while simultaneously putting pressure on local nations that may prefer a Chinese military presence as if it were utterly unacceptable. Could you foresee a government wanting to inspect US military sites or those of its allies in another country?

Cambodia is hardly a human rights haven; its history bears this up. However, the United States' attempts to wield the "human rights stick" to punish China are driven by a desire to restrict the country. Cambodia's major weakness is its small size and lack of leverage against the US.