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What on Earth Is Doug Ericksen Doing In Cambodia?

Just as hard-working Whatcom County voters are returning their primary ballots, State Senator Doug Ericksen and Representative Vincent Buys are half a world away in Cambodia on another unofficial junket, supposedly to witness the sham Cambodian elections on Sunday, July 29, 2018.

This is Doug’s third trip to Cambodia in two years. He traveled on his own to its capital city in June 2016, spending $1236 from his surplus campaign funds to stay at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, a lavish five-star hotel on the banks of the Mekong River. Then he returned to the city in May 2018 with Buys, retiring State Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) and Washington State University football coach Mike Leach. Buys was no penny-pincher, spending $508 from his surplus funds in Phnom Penh and another $280 at the Sokha Beach Resort in the seaside town of Sihanoukville.

 5 star Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel
Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel

According to Ericksen, the first two visits were goodwill trade and cultural-exchange missions, but it is hard to identify what U.S. products might be sold to penurious Cambodians — especially from Whatcom County. Our dairy products are of little interest there, as the Cambodians rely on coconuts, not cows, to produce the “milk” in their diet. Given his political leanings, maybe Ericksen and company were just scouting a good site for a Trump hotel in Sihanoukville.

According to the Asia-Pacific journal The Diplomat, Ericksen claims that he and Buys returned “to view the [election] process and meet with members of the National Election Committee, government members, majority and minority party leaders, other election observers and members of the public.” But a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Cambodia countered, “No official election observers from the United States government will observe the July 29, 2018, national election.”

On July 25th, in fact, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cambodia Democracy Act, which imposes sanctions on Cambodian government officials for ruthlessly dismantling its democracy. While its constitution claims Cambodia is a democracy, it is in practice an authoritarian single-party state. The Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is a former member of the bloodthirsty Communist Khmer Rouge party, which left 1.7 million dead during the 1970s. Many fear that Sen will resume the bloodshed once he has consolidated his power through this year’s elections.

Sokha Beach Resort
Sokha Beach Resort

The sham Cambodian election is plagued with serious problems: including the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government is cracking down on independent media coverage and has adopted repressive laws restricting speech, personal relationships and the people’s right to assemble. Members of opposition parties are subjected to intimidation, detention and surveillance.

“The Cambodian government over the past year has systematically cracked down on independent and opposition voices to ensure that the ruling party faces no obstacles to total political control,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Dissolving the main opposition party and banning many of its senior members from politics means that this election cannot possibly reflect the will of the Cambodian people.”

The dissolution of the CNRP party and a flurry of politically motivated criminal charges against CNRP leadership has led the United States to cut all electoral aid to the government. Late in 2017, the Trump administration imposed visa restrictions on a group of Cambodian officials who have participated in an ongoing crackdown on democracy in Cambodia. Yet Senator Ericksen and Representative Buys are in Phnom Penh on what Ericksen stated in an interview with the Phnom Penh Post as a trip to “strengthen cooperation.”

Last May, Meas Kim Heng, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ericksen had publicly expressed his desire to observe the election because, “He wants to see Cambodia and the U.S. have a good relationship, especially under the new foreign policy of President Donald Trump that the U.S. not interfere with the sovereignty of other countries.” Heng went on to say that Ericksen expressed satisfaction with the commune elections in 2017.

The United States and the international community are not sending official election observers to Cambodia. So, what are Ericksen and Buys doing in Phnom Penh?

Governments or elected officials who accept the rigged election results will be helping Cambodia move backwards towards the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Ericksen and Buys are not in Cambodia on official state business.

Senator Karen Keiser, President Pro Tempore of the Washington State Senate was caught off guard when she was told by Chelsea Garbell, with The Diplomat about Ericksen’s Cambodia trip. Keiser told Garbell, “I don’t know how it even works just to do that. Trips that I’ve been aware of have been led by the Governor who does trade and economic trips, or the Lt. Governor and a delegation of legislators, private and public folks. As far as I know those are the only official kind of trips.”

Yet Ericksen announced during his May meeting with Cambodian Senate President Say Chhum and Prime Minister Hun Sen, that “we will look forward to working with Cambodia to make sure their elections are free and open, but it’s up to Cambodia to make decisions for how they want to run their country and handle their internal politics.”

Which forces us to ask, what if that means supporting authoritarian dictatorships that strip a fledgling democracy of its Constitutional rights?

Verifying background information is listed below.

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About Elisabeth Britt and Michael Riordan

Writer • Member since Apr 26, 2017

Michael Riordan and Elisabeth Britt are both regular writers for Northwest Citizen. They each write articles as individuals and also collaborate on some articles. More about Michael here. http://nwcitizen.[...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Jul 29, 2018

It seems Mr. Ericksen’s junket can be easily explained by his characteristic greeting:

“What’s for lunch?”

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Michael Riordan

Jul 29, 2018

With all due respect, David, I think it’s a lot more than the usual free lunch Doug expects. Why fly thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars in surplus campaign funds just to get a few free meals?

If I had to speculate, I’d guess that having struck out at the EPA Region 10 offices in Seattle, where he had hoped to become the Regional Administrator replacing Obama appointee Dennis McLerran, he’s now set his sights on becoming the next Ambassador to Cambodia. The post is currently held by Obama appointee William A. Heidt, a career State Department staff member with impressive credientials, extensive diplomatic experience and degrees from Pennsylvania State and Georgetown Universities in Foreign Service and International Relations.

But we all know what the Trump regime (I hesitate to call it an “administration”) thinks about career professionals — especially those appointed by President Obama. They would much prefer a political hack like Doug Ericksen, who has no foreign-relations experience to speak of.

Voters in the 42nd district should realize for whom they may be voting — that even if elected in November, Doug’s real goal is a Trump appointment with a six-figure salary like he enjoyed while “working” on the EPA transisiton team from January to May 2017. In fact, he may have been grooming his successor, Vincent Buys, by taking him along on the Cambodia junket and showing him the ropes.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful turn of events?

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David Camp

Jul 30, 2018

Michael - thanks for the specific explanation. My use of “what’s for lunch” a humorous metaphor for exactly this kind of swag-seeking behavior. 

We should all watch out for those who want to “eat our lunch”.

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Wynne Lee

Jul 30, 2018

(Snark alert)  Erickson seems a good fit for the Camodian tyrant  (see https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/27/asia/cambodia-election-intl/index.html) Or perhaps he should hold out for 1st  ambassador to N Korea, offer Cambodia to Mr Buys?

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Elisabeth Britt

Jul 30, 2018

Why on earth would Doug and Vince want to be associated with a dictator who publicly announces that he has promised his political opponents “hell” while advising them to  “prepare their coffins for a disputed result…” 

Is this the kind of Democracy that Ericksen and Buys are promoting here and abroad?  Death threats and a return to the dark days of Khmer Rouge massacares and civil war?

France24 article on Hun Sen

 

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Elisabeth Britt

Jul 31, 2018

Unbelieveable. Senator Doug Ericksen is allowing himself to be used by the Cambodian government as a propaganda tool to undermine the credibility of our duly elected President and Congress. 

When is this going to end? And, why are we tolerating it?  

But don’t take my word for it. Read the article posted below. 

pushing-the-sanctions-barrier-us-action-that-borders-on-stupidity/

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Elisabeth Britt

Jul 31, 2018

Here’s the quote from the June 18, 2018 Khmer Times link posted above.  Ericksen and Buys are creating additional confusion and  instablity in a nation that we already have a tenuous relationship with. By the way, I don’t see any mention of “trade” in this article. Here’s the quote: 

...“This is indeed puzzling as the United States seems to be sending mixed signals to Cambodia and also to the rest of the emerging democracies in the region. 

Last month, U.S. Senator Doug Ericksen , during a visit to Cambodia said that he would lead a delegation to observe the July 29 general election and that he was satisfied with the outcome of last year’s commune election.

Nonetheless, we still have other US lawmakers, with no basis whatsover, continuing to demonise Cambodia and insisting that the government is going to against the Cambodian Constitution by not abiding by the rule of law. 

By calling on the government to reinstate the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and allow its 118 banned members to participate in the July election, these US lawmakers are overstepping their boundaries and interfering  in the internal affairs of the country.  Cambodia adheres to the rule of law and the decision by the judiciary to ban CNRP cannot be reversed…”

How much damage has Senator Ericksen and Representative Vincent Buys meddling caused? The opening paragraph of the same article sums it up succinctly. 

“Just when relations between the US and Cambodia seem to be on the mend with several US lawmakers visiting Cambodia and making positive comments on the progress made, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, mislead by American Diplomats here, and probably goaded by recalcitrant politicians like Sam Rainsy, have slapped sanctions on General Hing Bun Heang.”

By the way, that’s our duly authorized government representatives who are adopting sanctions against specific people in Cambodia. Not our unofficial delegation from the 42nd Legislative District.

Way to go, boys! I bet Congress, the US State Department, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and President Trump are positively thrilled with your unwelcome intrusions into international affairs. 

 

 

 

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Tip Johnson

Aug 04, 2018

Cambodia has long been considered attractive for its laissez-faire attitude towards cheap booze, drugs and prostitution. This was one of the first things chef Anthony Bourdain noted during his first visit in 2000. In the book that catapulted his career, he considered Cambodia the one destination where “missionaries, backpackers, aid workers and journalists come to behave badly”.

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50106776/tourists-really-blame/

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Michael Riordan

Aug 05, 2018

We know for a fact from their PDC filings that  at least Vincent Buys and Michael Baumgartner visited the seaside resort of Sihanoukville, a hotbed of the Cambodian sex trade, on their May junket, purportedly devoted to trade issues.

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David Camp

Aug 05, 2018

@Michael - commerce is commerce. Value judgements are so passe, doncha know. ;>}

One reason for the official interest in Cambodia is strategic - there is increasing Communist Chinese interest in Cambodia:

The SInicisation of Cambodia

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Michael Riordan

Aug 12, 2018

Well, it seems that Doug did not get the Cambodian ambassador post that I had surmised he was seeking in an earlier comment (see above, July 29). On Friday, August 10, the White House announced its intention to nominate career foreign-service member Patrick Murphy of Vermont to the position. Given his credentials, approval by the US Senate seems assured.

So the question still begs: “What on Earth is Doug Ericksen Doing in Cambodia”? He’s now gone there on three junkets in just over two years — all during the hot, rainy months of the Cambodian monsoon season. His claim of a “trade misson” was throroughly debunked in an August 2, 2018, letter from Governor Inslee to Ericksen and the other state legislators who accompanied him, which stated rather sternly, “To be perceived as giving support to the Hun Sen dictatorship demeans the public trust in the positions you hold, brings discredit to our state and does not reflect the values of the people you represent.”

If Doug is seriously running for reelection as the state senator from the 42 District, instead of just trying to hold the office for the GOP, his constituents deserve a reply to this statement.

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