Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, currently in self-imposed exile and lobbying for foreign diplomatic support, told supporters in France on Sunday that Cambodia should not rely on foreign powers to solve its own problems, given the country’s history.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party president is currently abroad to avoid, among other legal entanglements, a two-year prison sentence stemming from a recently resurrected 2011 conviction for defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
In his remarks in France, he said a solution to the country’s ongoing political tensions should be flexible and between “Khmers and Khmers”, and should not rely on foreign powers.
Speaking at Wat Rasmei Samakki in France, Rainsy discussed the folly of how, after the decline of the Angkor Empire, successive factions of the Khmer royal family requested assistance and protection from the neighbouring states of Siam, today’s Thailand, and Annam, the precursor of Vietnam, to support their claims on power.
As a result, Thailand came to control the western provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap while Vietnam annexed the Mekong delta, referred to as Kampuchea Krom by some Cambodians.
“If we look at Cambodian history for the last 400 years, we have seen that Khmers have argued with each other continuously,” Rainsy said.
“When there were continuous conflicts, our Khmer behaviour was to win over fellow Khmers absolutely, and to win, we relied on foreign countries.
“This, we must withdraw. If we do not rely on the Western foreign countries, then we rely on the Eastern foreign countries. They help us to win but they do not help for free. They think of their own interests.”
Given his efforts to engage the international community to help with Cambodia’s ongoing political tension, the comments could be seen as somewhat ironic.
But via email, Rainsy said his remarks needed to be understood in the country’s historical context, which he said was reminiscent of Poland – a country “also caught between two powerful and aggressive neighbours: Prussia/Germany and Russia”.
He added: “But Cambodia has nothing to fear from Western countries, like Poland has nothing to fear from Brazil. Those countries do not share any common borders!”
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan agreed that a reliance on foreign powers undermined the Kingdom’s territory in the past, but the issue was not simple.
He said Vietnam “liberating” Cambodia from the Pol Pot regime, for example, was “meaningful help”.