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Follow-Up / Detailed Coverage

Cong. Lowenthal Says (1) He Didn't Discuss Cambodia Trip With Mayor Garcia Beforehand; (2) He Supports Current Pending Bill That Targets Regime's Bad Actors But Doesn't Ban Trade; And (3) Plans In Coming Weeks To Introduce Bicameral/Bipartisan "Cambodia Trade Act" Requiring Pres. Trump To Examine If Cambodia's Current Preferential Trade Status Is Justified In View Of Regime's Ongoing Oppressive Acts is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(Feb 15, 2019, 10:05 a.m.) -- As previously reported by, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia (whose city is home to America's largest population of Cambodian refugees) recently traveled with a Port of LB delegation to Cambodia to promote trade, signed a document (whose text didn't come to the LB's policy-setting City Council beforehand) reciting that the City of LB would facilitate various "sister city" type contacts but didn't raise issues of democracy or human rights.

At the same time, a bill now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 526) -- co-sponsored by Cong. Alan Lowenthal (D, LB-west OC) -- recites the following regarding Cambodia's regime as the basis for applying certain sanctions (detailed below)

[H.R. 526 text] Congress finds the following:

(1) Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power in Cambodia since 1985 and is the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia. Despite decades of international attention and assistance to promote a pluralistic, multi-party democratic system in Cambodia, the Government of Cambodia continues to be undemocratically dominated by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), which controls every agency and security apparatus of the state.

(2) In 2015, the CPP-controlled parliament passed the "Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations", which gave the government sweeping powers to revoke the registration of NGOs that the government believed to be operating with a political bias in a blatant attempt to restrict the legitimate work of civil society. On August 23, 2017, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the closure of the National Democratic Institute and the expulsion of its foreign staff. On September 15, 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the withdrawal of all volunteers from the United States Peace Corps, which has operated in Cambodia since 2006 with 500 United States volunteers providing English language and healthcare training.

(3) The Government of Cambodia has taken several measures to restrict its media environment, especially through politicized tax investigations against independent media outlets that resulted in the closure of The Cambodian Daily and Radio Free Asia in early September 2017. Additionally, the Government of Cambodia has ordered several radio stations to stop the broadcasting of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming.

(4) On September 3, 2017, Kem Sokha, the President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on politically motivated charges, including treason and conspiring to overthrow the Government of Cambodia, and faces up to 30 years in prison. The CNRP’s previous leader, Sam Rainsy, remains in exile. On November 16, 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, eliminating the primary opposition party.

(5) Each of the six elections that have taken place in Cambodia since 1991 were conducted in circumstances that were not free and fair, and were marked by fraud, intimidation, violence, and the government’s misuse of legal mechanisms to weaken opposition candidates and parties.

(6) In the most recent general election in July 2018, following the dissolution of the CNRP, the CPP secured every parliamentary seat, an electoral victory that a statement from the White House Press Secretary stated was "neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people."

(7) The United States is committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Cambodia. The United States continues to urge the Government of Cambodia to immediately release Mr. Kem Sokha, reinstate the political status of the CNRP and restore its elected seats in the National Assembly, and support electoral reform efforts in Cambodia with free and fair elections monitored by international observers.

Mayor Garcia's actions and those of the LB's Port have sparked reactions ranging from disbelief to dismay among some in LB's now-politically rising Cambodian-American community. With the House now in Dem majority control, followed-up with related questions to Congressman Lowenthal, who responded with emailed responses (Feb. 14) below.

[Scroll down for further.]

  • Was Cong. Lowenthal (or his office) involved at some level(s) with the Port of LB's recent trade-related trip which included meetings in Cambodia?
    Cong. Lowenthal. I was not. My meeting with the Mayor was about introducing him to the California Congressional delegation, not foreign policy. He mentioned to me that there was going to be a Port delegation to Cambodia and Vietnam, but we did not discuss it as this was not the purpose of the meeting.

  • Does Cong. Lowenthal believe the visit was consistent, or inconsistent with HR 526 (co-sponsored by him, re-introduced version of HR 5754 which died in Senate committee last year)?
    Cong. Lowenthal: The Cambodia Democracy Act places sanctions and restrictions on those who I believe are accountable: Prime Minister Hun Sen and his regime. It does not seek to cut off all trade with Cambodia.

  • What are Cong. Lowenthal's plans in the new Dem-majority House re Cambodia?
    Cong. Lowenthal: I firmly believe that Cambodia's preferential trade status with the United States should be tied directly to their record on human rights, democracy, and freedoms for the Cambodian people. This is why, in the coming weeks, I will be introducing the bicameral, bipartisan Cambodia Trade Act, a bill to require the Trump Administration to examine whether Cambodia's preferential trade status with the U.S. is deserved in light of the ongoing oppression of the Hun Sen regime. This mirrors similar actions currently being taken by the European Union regarding their preferential trade agreement with Cambodia.


Sponsor will report the text of Cong. Lowenthal's forthcoming legislation when introduced. In the meantime, H.R. 526 currently pending in the House would direct the President to apply certain sanctions to "each senior official of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia that the President determines has directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia" or have "committed or directed serious human rights violations associated with undermining democracy in Cambodia" and "entities owned or controlled by senior officials of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia." H.R. 526's sanctions would "block and prohibit all transactions in property and interests in property" of those persons of such property and interests that are in the U.S., come within the U.S. or are within the possession or control of a U.S. person and direct the Secretary of State to continue U.S. declared policy of Dec. 6, 2017 and restrict entry into the U.S. "of persons involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia.

A nearly identical bill (H.R. 5754), also co-sponsored by Cong. Lowenthal, passed the 2018 Repub majority House but didn't advance in the Repub majority Senate.


During his visit to Cambodia, Mayor Garcia signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" in Phnom-Penh on January 28, 2019 which recites in pertinent part that both cities "are ready to conduct friendly exchanges and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefits" in fields such as "economics, trade, culture, education, agriculture, tourism, health and personnel, science and technology so as to promote common development for shared prosperity." It also states that the two cities "agree to facilitate the exchanges of visits of their respective representatives." To view the MOU in full, click here.

[ publisher's comment: Under LB's voter-enacted City Charter, LB's Mayor doesn't have independent policy setting authority or executive level authority to bind the City to contractual agreements. LB city policy is decided by the City Council which didn't publicly discuss beforehand what Mayor Garcia did and hasn't voted to approve it now.]

The Cambodian regime gave considerable media attention to what LB's Mayor said and LB's Port officials did:

In a speech carried on Cambodian state television, Cambodia's King, Norodom Sihamoni, said "In the history of our country, our nation has never before had the honor of having a formal designation of Cambodia Town, culture, and business district in a foreign country...We're grateful to you Mr. Mayor and to you, Mr. chairman [of Cambodia Town] for your very loyal gesture."



As previously reported (first again by, some in LB's politically rising Cambodian-American community have voiced concerns that the actions of the Mayor and Port may have sent the wrong message to Cambodia's repressive regime. On Feb. 11, 2019, they held a community roundtable meeting (that drew roughly 15 people on short notice) and was conducted by Tippana Tith, who invited each of the attendees to voice his/her views (calling it the American way to proceed.), present at the meeting, heard via summarized translation from Khmer various degrees of puzzlement, questions, concerns. dismay and displeasure about what took place. Why did the Mayor and Port do this, several attendees wanted to know. How is what the Port and Mayor did consistent with what Congressman Lowenthal has been saying and doing, others asked? Some said the Mayor is doing a good job for the City but didn't understand what's taking place in Cambodia and the nature of its repressive regime. Others speculated that the Mayor did know but that money is more important to the Port and the City. Still others speculated that the Mayor was given bad advice by others in LB's Cambodian-American community.

After everyone was heard, the meeting's attendees agreed that a letter should be sent to Mayor Garcia (text to be composed after the meeting) seeking to meet with him. Depending on the Mayor's response, Mr. Tith indicated the group can decide on its next actions.

Developing. Further to follow on

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