‘Trump, rein in em­bassy’

Hun Sen calls on US pres­i­dent to warn diplo­mats about in­ter­fer­ence

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Leonie Ki­jew­ski and Kong Meta

PRIME Min­is­ter Hun Sen yes­ter­day asked US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to warn his em­bassy of­fi­cials for al­legedly vi­o­lat­ing Trump’s pur­ported pol­icy of non­in­ter­fer­ence dur­ing a speech at the on­go­ing Asean Sum­mit in the Philip­pines.

In re­cent weeks, Hun Sen and other top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly ac­cused the US of col­lud­ing with the op­po­si­tion Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party to fo­ment a so-called colour rev­o­lu­tion in the King­dom, ac­cu­sa­tions the US Em­bassy has de­nied. The claims have nonethe­less pre­cip­i­tated the jail­ing of op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha on charges of “trea­son” and the ini­ti­a­tion of pro­ceed­ings that could see the party dis­solved as early as Thurs­day, de­vel­op­ments that have drawn crit­i­cism from the US Em­bassy in Ph­nom Penh.

Ad­dress­ing gov­ern­ment lead­ers from all over the world at the sum­mit in Manila yes­ter­day, Hun Sen ap­plauded Trump for his char­ac­ter and lead­er­ship, calling him a “won­der­ful” and “most re­spect­ful” per­son.

“You are a won­der­ful pres­i­dent for me . . . We want you to be strong and de­velop and be in­de­pen­dent in your own coun­try, try­ing your own ef­forts, for your peo­ple,” he said. “This is what we try to­gether and de­velop to­gether as a true part­ner and sus­tain­able longterm part­ner.”

He claimed that he had been

among the few in Cam­bo­dia who be­lieved that Trump would win last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion – a pre­dic­tion he made pub­licly twice – be­fore lament­ing that op­po­si­tion party lead­ers had crit­i­cised him for sup­port­ing Trump.

“I got at­tacked from the op­po­si­tion party lead­ers [who said] that ‘those who have the same feather live in the same nest’. [They said] ‘Don­ald Trump is a dic­ta­tor by us­ing money, while Hun Sen is a dic­ta­tor by us­ing money and arms’,” he said.

Yet, if Amer­i­can of­fi­cials re­spected Trump’s pur­ported pol­icy of non­in­ter­ven­tion, Amer­ica would “have a lot of friends”, the premier ar­gued. He went on to chide the US Em­bassy in Cam­bo­dia, which he said ig­nored this prin­ci­ple.

“Your pol­icy is be­ing changed but the em­bassy in Ph­nom Penh has not changed it yet,” he said.

To bring the em­bassy in line, he asked Trump to “re­mind” his of­fi­cers not to in­ter­vene in Cam­bo­dia’s in­ter­nal af­fairs.

Hun Sen also ap­pealed to Trump to for­give Cam­bo­dia’s 1970s-era war debt, which the King­dom ac­crued un­der the Lon Nol regime mainly by buy­ing Amer­i­can goods to cope with a refugee cri­sis caused, at least in part, by Amer­i­can bomb­ing.

“It is like you get the ham­mer to hit on us, and we go­ing to pay for the cost of the ham­mer,” he said.

The US Em­bassy de­clined to com­ment on the re­marks yes­ter­day.

But po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ou Vi­rak said it was un­likely that Trump would call the em­bassy to heel.

“Cam­bo­dia is not im­por­tant enough for Trump to warn any­one,” he said. “I think Trump will have not a sin­gle clue what Mr Hun Sen is tak­ing about as Cam­bo­dia is not worth a sin­gle word of this tweets.”

Over the course of the day, prior to Hun Sen’s speech, im­ages trick­ling out of the sum­mit had stoked a par­ti­san back-and-forth over how Hun Sen was far­ing at the sum­mit amid the widely crit­i­cised crack­down on the op­po­si­tion back home.

Hun Sen sup­port­ers were quick to point to chummy pho­to­graphs fea­tur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen post­ing with Trump – who flashed a thumbs-up sign – and with the lib­eral Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, among oth­ers.

Mean­while, for­mer op­po­si­tion leader Sam Rainsy posted some screen­shots show­ing the premier stand­ing by him­self far away from other lead­ers as al­leged ev­i­dence of the premier be­ing given the cold shoul­der by other par­tic­i­pants.

Coun­cil of Min­is­ters spokesper­son Phay Siphan said in a mes­sage that the “Cold War is no longer”, and as such, “sov­er­eign states then cor­dially wel­com­ing [him] on the in­ter­na­tional stage is nor­mal”.

Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party stal­wart and for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Hor Namhong was more blunt, ap­pear­ing to cast the friendly photo op with Trump as an in­di­ca­tion of Hun Sen’s clout.

It’s bet­ter to “meet with the boss . . . than talk­ing with the slaves”, he com­mented in Face­book post.

But Vi­rak high­lighted that pho­to­graphs only re­flected sin­gu­lar mo­ments “in a [con­tin­uum] of events that could be com­pletely dif­fer­ent” and should not be given too

I think Trump will not have a sin­gle clue what Mr Hun Sen is talk­ing about

much at­ten­tion.

Mean­while, Carl Thayer, emeritus pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New South Wales, said that Hun Sen likely wasn’t get­ting much at­ten­tion at the Asean meet­ing in the first place.

“Quite frankly Cam­bo­dia ranks low on the list of im­por­tant coun­tries at­tend­ing APEC and ASEAN-re­lated meet­ings,” he said in an email. “This has more to do with Cam­bo­dia’s level of eco­nomic de­velop[ment] and the paucity of any worth­while ini­tia­tives by Hun Sen to shore up re­gional peace and se­cu­rity.”

Thus coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives were sim­ply treat­ing him “in ac­cord with pro­to­col”.

Thayer did ac­knowl­edge that the chummy photo ops could be used by the premier to “put his own spin” on the sum­mit, but the fo­cus of dis­cus­sion “should be on who Hun Sen will be meet­ing for sub­stan­tial bi­lat­eral side­line dis­cus­sions”.

TED ALJIBE/AFP

Riot po­lice clash with pro­test­ers as they try to march to the 31st Asean Sum­mit venue yes­ter­day in Manila.

SUP­PLIED

Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen speaks yes­ter­day at the on­go­ing Asean Sum­mit in Manila.

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