Six Cambodian West Point cadets have lost U.S. funding for their studies because Cambodia curtailed cooperation and therefore “lost its eligibility,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said, suggesting the Cambodian government should pay the tuition itself.
Justice Ministry and Human Rights Committee spokesman Chin Malin on Friday said the U.S. decision was “sick.”
“Immoral political diplomacy. Angry with the parents, cannot do anything, attacking their children as a warning. Sick,” Malin posted on Facebook, implying that the U.S. was punishing the students because it could do nothing against the Cambodian government.
Arend Zwartjes, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, said in an email on Thursday that Cambodia no longer qualified for the scholarship program.
“Following Cambodia’s curtailment of cooperation in several areas of traditional bilateral military-military engagement, the country lost its eligibility for the U.S. military service academy program,” Zwartjes said.
“As a reflection of their good academic standing, however, Cambodian students currently enrolled at military service academies are permitted to complete their undergraduate programs. The United States has encouraged the Government of Cambodia to assist its students with remaining tuition costs.”
The Cambodian Defense Ministry budget for 2021 is $641 million.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the U.S. decision was “unfair” to the six young Cambodians “who love the United States.”
“Cambodia will not betray its cooperation with any country, but Cambodia will maintain its sovereignty and neutrality without being under the military influence of any country,” he said.
The move is seen as another setback in relations between Cambodia and the U.S., which have been deteriorating in recent years. Cambodia canceled joint military exercises with the U.S. in 2017 even as it conducted joint drills with China.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said the latest action was likely due to U.S. mistrust over alleged Chinese military presence in Cambodia.
“It’s a negative sign of military relations,” Sovannara said.
The U.S. has alleged that Cambodia plans to allow the Chinese military to use the Ream naval base in Preah Sihanouk province, raising the issue last month with Prime Minister Hun Sen during a visit by U.S. deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman.
The U.S. also said it was not given “full access” to the base during a tour the week after, and then cut millions of dollars in funding to the Cambodian government in a forestry conservation project.
Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat could not be reached for comment.