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Cambodia Throws a Wrench into Trump’s Trade War

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia has become a haven for companies eager to circumvent rules that threaten their bottom line. This does not bode well for America’s ability to enforce its trade tariffs against China – or for Cambodia’s future.

PARIS – The US Department of Homeland Security has fined several companies for evading President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imports from China by rerouting them through Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone. The Chinese-owned SSEZ highlights how Cambodia, acting as China’s compliant and corrupt colony, threatens the enforcement of Trump’s tariffs and, more broadly, US interests in the region.

China is Cambodia’s largest aid donor, investor, and creditor, and Sihanoukville – Cambodia’s only deep-sea port, through which about 70% of the country’s trade moves – is the first link in the chain of China’s massive transnational infrastructure investment scheme, the Belt and Road Initiative. But, far from becoming rich from BRI investments, Cambodia is being crushed by them.

Chinese businesses operating in the SSEZ buy and sell from one another, meaning that local people do not see any of the wealth they bring to Cambodia. On the contrary, living conditions for Cambodians in fast-growing Sihanoukville are deteriorating rapidly, owing to a lack of effective land-use planning or community-focused investment.

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