‘World’s Newest One-Party State’: Beijing backs Cambodia’s crackdown


Sweden said on Tuesday it was stopping new aid for Cambodia after the main opposition party was outlawed by the Supreme Court at the government’s request….. But Western donors have less sway than they once did since China has emerged as Cambodia’s biggest aid donor and investor, Reuters reports.

Meeting on Monday on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Europe foreign ministers in Myanmar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon that China supported the government’s actions. China has repeatedly expressed its support for Cambodia, making no criticism of the government led by Hun Sen (left), a former Khmer Rouge commander, who is one of Beijing’s most important allies in Southeast Asia.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior yesterday confirmed that certain civil society organizations are being “monitored” following accusations, leveled during the Supreme Court hearing on the dissolution of the opposition party, that they participated in a purported “lotus revolution”, the Phnom Penh Post reports:

The Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved in a widely condemned ruling for allegedly trying to topple the government. In their presentations to the court, Interior Ministry lawyers named four groups and individuals as accomplices in a so-called “lotus revolution”, an accusation all the groups denied yesterday. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) was accused of colluding with the US to overthrow the government, the same charges aimed at its founder, Kem Sokha, who would later go on to lead the CNRP, and who is currently in pretrial detention on charges of “treason”.

Cambodian civil society groups dismissed claims that NGOs like the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House and the Open Society Institute sought to promote regime change through a ‘color revolution’ as an attempt to “pre-emptively criminalize” peaceful assembly and “delegitimize” human rights.

“Speculation that the National Endowment for Democracy or NDI have a ‘secret agenda’ in Cambodia is wrong and baseless,’ said Jane Riley Jacobsen, NED’s senior director of public affairs.

Cambodia’s leader is delivering cash handouts and making populist pledges to win supporters of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, reports suggest.

Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Cambodia’s politics of survival is likely to continue unless or until members of the CPP elite and those in the opposition see their common problem: the inherent weakness of Cambodia’s state institutions, which perpetuates the toxic dynamics of threat and counter-threat, Ryerson University analyst Sorpong Peou writes:

Cambodian leaders have a big choice to make. Either they continue along this current trend with no end in sight, or they band together to build the country’s democratic state institutions for the benefit of their own nation.

With Chinese support, Hun Sen has effectively destroyed all opposition to his autocratic rule, Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, writes for Foreign Policy: 

Until now, Western countries have shown little appetite for introducing sanctions, partly out of a fear of pushing Hun Sen fully into China’s orbit, and partly because moves to restrict garment exports from Cambodia could cripple the incomes of hundreds of thousands of workers who depend on the industry. In any case, the ultimate benefit of sanctions is uncertain. In fact, the sobering lesson of Cambodia’s troubled democratic experiment is that while foreign pressure can sometimes force concessions from authoritarian rulers, it is of limited use in forcing them to adopt democratic governing principles.

Three opposition members of Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) resigned from their posts Monday in protest of a court ruling to dissolve their party and recently adopted laws that will see its parliamentary seats and commune councilor positions reassigned to government-aligned parties, RFA adds.

The White House resisted gushing overtures Hun Sen made to U.S. President Donald Trump in Manila, issuing a stiff rebuke to the strongman over his moves to dismantle Cambodia’s democracy, VOA reports:

In a statement on Tuesday, the White House said Matt Pottinger, the senior director for Asian affairs and Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, had met with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on the sidelines of the recent East Asia Summit in Manila.

“Expressing their interest in supporting the future success of Cambodia, the U.S. side forthrightly expressed strong concerns about recent steps that challenge the country’s democratic progress, including restrictions on the free press, civil society, and the political opposition,” the statement said.

Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said Hun Sen had attempted to go above the president’s own bureaucracies and that the White House and State Department “couldn’t really let that slide.”

“I think putting out the statement is just their way of signaling subtle displeasure with that hamfisted attempt by Hun Sen to appeal to Donald Trump’s vanity,” he said.

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