Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen on Thursday denied concern over foreign sanctions imposed against senior Cambodian officials, including in the country’s military, saying none of those sanctioned officials hold assets in foreign banks.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport, the long-serving prime minister said that foreign sanctions will only lead Cambodians to invest more in their own country, especially in real estate.

“These sanctions are only political gestures,” Hun Sen said. “Do I even have any assets overseas?

“I have nothing there, so they can sanction me and can freeze my assets and confiscate them if they like,” he said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Koung criticized a U.S. arms embargo announced Wednesday against Cambodia due to concerns over Chinese military influence in the country.

“Cambodia adheres to a principle of permanent neutrality and enjoys full sovereignty and independence according to its constitution,” Kuy Koung said in a statement to RFA. The new U.S. embargo interferes with Cambodia’s internal affairs, he said.

“Cambodia’s constitution does not permit any foreign troops to be stationed on its soil, and we have already reiterated that there is no foreign military presence in Cambodia,” he said.

U.S. officials have voiced alarm for more than two years now over the China-backed refurbishment of Ream Naval Base, located outside Cambodia’s main port city of Sihanoukville.

The Wall Street Journal in 2019 reported that a secret treaty had been signed granting the Chinese Navy use of the base for 30 years. The claim was quickly denounced by the Cambodian government as “fake news,” but suspicions remain.

During a June visit to Cambodia, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned her hosts that a Chinese base in Cambodia would negatively impact relations with the United States.

And in November, the Treasury and State Departments levied sanctions against two senior Cambodian military officials, saying the pair had conspired to illicitly profit from the project at Ream.

The sanctions were announced in conjunction with a Commerce Department advisory warning U.S. businesses of the “potential exposure to entities in Cambodia, such as the Cambodian military, that engage in human rights abuses, corruption, and other destabilizing conduct.”

The arms embargo covers not just conventional weaponry, but also so-called “dual-use” equipment, which are items that could have both commercial and military or national security applications.

U.S. arms manufacturers have not traditionally exported to Cambodia, but the regulations under which the embargo was announced apply also to non-U.S. companies and individuals, providing the items being exported are either U.S. in origin or incorporate U.S. technology, commodities or components.

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