PANORAMA

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - – Colin Meyn

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

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