Analysts have questioned whether the “The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019” bill would be passed by the US Senate and finally signed off by the president after its approval by the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, on Monday. Niem Chheng specially for The Phnom Penh Post.
Introduced by Republican Representative for Florida Ted Yoho, the bill aims to block the US assets of “each senior official of the government, military or security forces of Cambodia who has directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia”.
It also plans visa sanctions restricting the entry of those targeted into the country.
Bradley J Murg, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Seattle Pacific University, questioned whether the bill would be able to reach the US president.
“I think the bigger question is: Will it actually pass? Recall that similar legislation was passed in the House and then died in the Senate a while back,” he said via email on Wednesday.
The US Congress was currently going into recess for the summer, he reminded. This meant the bill was not going to move quickly.
He said it still had to go through the relevant Senate committee, and there was no guarantee it would either be taken up or voted on in that committee, let alone by the entire Senate.
“Then, assuming the Senate passes a different version of the bill, it must go through a conference committee and then be voted on again by both the House and Senate. And then, finally, does it go to the president, who could, of course, veto it,” he said.
Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he did not expect the bill to be passed easily. He said the move would come in the run-up to presidential elections.
“I think with the election getting closer, US politicians will be campaigning for support. I don’t believe it will be eventually adopted. Even [President Trump’s] wall with Mexico could not be built after failing to get Senate approval,” he said.
He also questioned whether the Cambodian officials to be possibly targeted by the sanctions had assets in the US to be blocked.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation released a statement expressing its regret that the House of Representatives had passed the bill.
It said the accusations stated in it were either baseless or out of date.
Responding to the statement in the bill that Prime Hun Sen was the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was neither against democratic principle nor a crime for a prime minister to be re-elected.
The ministry said it considered the move as running counter to the ongoing efforts of the two countries to improve their relationship on the basis of shared interests and mutual respect.
“Despite unwarranted pressure and unilateral sanctions from the one side, the Cambodian government has embraced a positive, good faith approach to continuing cooperation with the US on wide-ranging fronts,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
It said the two countries were cooperating on the “gold standard” MIA/POW repatriation programme humanitarian mission, the reactivation of military dialogue, the support for Peace Corps volunteers and the active joint fight against “non-traditional security challenges”, which include terrorism and human and drug trafficking.
Murg said the legislation would have severely negative implications for the future of US-Cambodian relations, potentially leading to a permanent rupture, were it to finally pass.
“The question of US-Cambodian relations has been increasingly viewed in many policy circles in Washington, DC, entirely through the lens of US-China relations.”
“The bill derives its core support from those in Washington who see Cambodia as a ‘Chinese colony’. So it would die in the Senate if Cambodia could demonstrate its independence from China,” he said.