An eye on regional affairs
The Cambodian prime minister’s relentless anti-American rhetoric is unlikely to be met with material resistance from the US or do any significant damage to his regime, according to David Chandler, historian and author of seven books about Cambodia
What do you make of the timing and intensity of Hun Sen’s anti-American rhetoric?
It looks like America’s record since 1993 has been characterised to a large extent by a desire for regime change. And Hun Sen knows that, and anybody knows that. I think the timing question is interesting – I can’t quite pin down the timing. But Hun Sen’s a tactician – he doesn’t do things he can’t get away with. America’s not going to come back at him – we [the US] didn’t come back at [thenPrince Norodom] Sihanouk when he broke relations [in the 1960s]. So this seemed like a good idea at the time to him. We don’t know what more he’s going to do... He doesn’t believe in plurality. He doesn’t believe in the loyal opposition either – that would never occur to him as a concept.
So you think that this relentless attack on the US is a no-risk manoeuvre?
We’re worrying about North Korea – we’re not going to do anything to this guy. We can’t anyway, but we’re not going to. We have many, many more important things to do than pay attention to Cambodia. The truth is, it never was a very important place – that was part of the problem. And I don’t think he’ll make enemies. The steadfast aid people are Japan, and they’re not going to back off because of this. It’s a question of what’s next – I’d like to see if he moves against foreign human rights outfits, which are not allowed anywhere else in communist Southeast Asia – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. If he throws them out, it will be interesting. Those are big targets, they’re international, so that might raise a little bit more fuss.
What do you expect Hun Sen to do in the months leading up to next year’s elections?
If it stays calm, or calm-ish, he’s not going to do any more dramatic stuff. He may continue to nibble away – he’s not going to rescind any of the things he’s said and done. I was quite surprised that he went after the Daily, which was a really decent paper, but I don’t think he’ll let them back in – that would be losing face for him. My guess is that he’s going to let the things he’s done stand and if the situation stays calm then he won’t do much more – for the time being.
Hun Sen’s a tactician – he doesn’t do things he can’t get away with
David Chandler testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh in July 2012