PM praises China af­ter trip

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - An­drew Nachem­son and Ben Sokhean

PRIME Min­is­ter Hun Sen re­turned from a three-day trip to China yes­ter­day, all but con­firm­ing in a state­ment what ob­servers have long the­o­rised: that Cam­bo­dia now sees China’s back­ing as a bul­wark against Western crit­i­cisms over its rights record.

Cam­bo­dia has re­cently been the sub­ject of grow­ing in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism over what is widely seen as a crack­down on the free press and po­lit­i­cal free­doms, which cul­mi­nated in the re­cent ar­rest of op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha on charges of “trea­son”. In re­sponse, Hun Sen has re­peat­edly ac­cused for­eign pow­ers of in­ter­fer­ence in its in­ter­nal af­fairs – par­tic­u­larly the US, which he has ac­cused of con­spir­ing to top­ple his govern­ment.

Ap­par­ently un­daunted by the mount­ing crit­i­cism, Hun Sen – who had trav­elled to the 14th China-Asean Expo with Com­merce Min­is­ter Pan So­rasak – praised China in a Face­book post yes­ter­day, call­ing it “a strong backer who con­tin­ues to help Cam­bo­dia in all con­di­tions, with­out al­low­ing any for­eign coun­tries to break us”.

Govern­ment spokesman Phay Siphan said that the meet­ing with China in the midst of so much crit­i­cism from Western pow­ers was merely a coin­ci­dence, but added that the two coun­tries have a “steel re­la­tion­ship”.

On the Chi­nese side, a Mon­day state­ment from the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs sum­marised the many meet­ings with var­i­ous coun­tries’ lead­ers, mak­ing par­tic­u­larly am­i­ca­ble men­tion of Cam­bo­dia.

“[ Vice Premier] Zhang Gaoli ex­pressed that China-Cam­bo­dia re­la­tions en­joy sound de­vel­op­ment mo­men­tum at present,” the sec­tion on Cam­bo­dia be­gins.

“China highly ap­pre­ci­ates Cam­bo­dia for its sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to main­tain­ing the over­all sit­u­a­tion of China-ASEAN friendly co­op­er­a­tion,” it con­tin­ues.

Last year, Cam­bo­dia was crit­i­cised for ham­string­ing an Asean state­ment con­demn­ing China over its ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the South China Sea. Days later, China un­veiled a new $530 mil­lion aid pack­age for the King­dom.

Mon­day’s state­ment fol­lows pre­vi­ous af­fir­ma­tions of sup­port for Cam­bo­dia’s re­cent ac­tions from the Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry and a vis­it­ing se­nior diplo­mat.

The state­ment’s sec­tion on Cam­bo­dia con­cluded with a re­minder of China’s sup­port for Hun Sen’s rul­ing Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party, as well as an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the premier’s sup­port for China.

“Hun Sen ex­pressed grat­i­tude to China’s long-term sup­port for the Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party . . . Cam­bo­dia is will­ing to take this as an op­por­tu­nity to con­stantly deepen bi­lat­eral friend­ship,” it said.

Yes­ter­day, Charles San­ti­ago, a mem­ber of the Malaysian Par­lia­ment and the chair­per­son of the Asean Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans for Hu­man Rights, said China was the one guilty of in­ter­fer­ence.

In an email, San­ti­ago claimed China’s friendly over­tures to the CPP amid crack­downs on free­doms “con­firms our sus­pi­cion that the su­per­power is in­ter­fer­ing in the af­fairs of an ASEAN na­tion, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to hu­man rights, the rule of law, and democ­racy”.

He added that the re­la­tion­ship was trou­bling for the en­tire re­gion.

“China is in­di­rectly send­ing a neg­a­tive mes­sage to the re­gion: it is pre­pared to sup­port un­demo­cratic regimes as long as they re­main loyal to China. Other coun­tries such as Malaysia, Thai­land, and Myan­mar will, no doubt, take no­tice and be lining up for Chi­nese sup­port.”

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Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen dis­em­barks from an air­plane yes­ter­day af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to China, where he at­tended the 14th China-Asean Expo.

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