U.S. imposes arms embargo on Cambodia over Chinese military influence

An armed security guard stands under a Cambodian flag in the capital Phnom Penh, November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The United States imposed an arms embargo and new export restrictions on Cambodia on Wednesday over what it said was the growing influence of China's military in the country, as well as over human rights and corruption.

The actions by the departments of State and Commerce reflect Washington's effort to counter China's growing influence in Southeast Asia, as Cambodia has become one of China's most important allies in the region.

The State Department added Cambodia to the list of countries to which all arms exports are banned, according to a filing with the Federal Register.

"Cambodia continues to allow the PRC to expand its military presence and construct exclusive-use facilities on the Gulf of Thailand" despite the appeals of U.S. officials, the filing said, using the initials for People's Republic of China.

The impact the ban will have is unclear. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States is not a supplier of arms to Cambodia.

Washington last month sanctioned two Cambodian officials over corruption at the Ream Naval Base, where U.S. officials have raised concerns about a lack of transparency about Chinese construction.

The filing also cited corruption and human rights abuses as reasons for the embargo.

The announcements came as State Department counselor Derek Chollet was set to depart on Wednesday for Cambodia - the current chair of the regional ASEAN bloc - and Indonesia, the State Department said.

A Cambodian government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Commerce Department also issued new export restrictions that will restrict access to so-called dual-use items that can have military as well as civilian use, as well as less-sensitive military items and defense articles and services.

"We urge the Cambodian government to make meaningful progress in addressing corruption and human rights abuses, and to work to reduce the influence of the PRC military in Cambodia, which threatens regional and global security," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

Reporting by Simon Lewis and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell

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