Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday accused “some people” of trying to instigate conflict, and even war, between the country and its neighbours, while personally claiming responsibility for peace and regional cooperation in a thinly veiled swipe at the opposition’s past use of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric.
Speaking at the inauguration of a new bridge, the premier touted his government’s successes in transforming a battle-torn country into a developed, cooperative and trade-friendly state. However, he added, unnamed actors were looking to do the opposite.
“Do our people want to exchange goods and travel to other [countries] or want to dig bunkers as in the past to fight each other?” he said.
Hun Sen, along with his Vietnamese counterpart, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was inaugurating the Chrey Thom-Long Binh bridge, which will connect Cambodia’s Kandal province to the An Giang province across the border.
The premier went on to repeat his achievements in bringing peace and development along the Cambodia-Vietnam border, only this time around he did so in Vietnamese.
“When they see me speaking in Vietnamese language they called me Vietnam’s puppet, but no one calls me a French or British puppet when I speak French or English,” he said.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party and its forebears have long sought to exploit Cambodians’ historically fraught relationship with their eastern neighbour, often highlighting the ruling party’s links to Vietnam, which first placed Hun Sen and other senior CPP officials’ in power following the Vietnamese-backed invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge.
The intensity of the rhetoric has at times led to accusations of race-baiting, particularly on the issues of Vietnamese immigration and outstanding border disputes with Vietnam.Reached yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the party’s raising of the border or immigration issues was in no way an attempt to stoke tensions with Vietnam.
She added that if the CNRP were to come to power it would maintain good relations with Cambodia’s neighbours while enforcing existing immigration laws to deal with that issue.
“We strongly believe that there should be no war, peace is maintained and everyone works together for our development and prosperity,” she said.
Political commentator Ou Virak, meanwhile, said he viewed the CNRP’s past use of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric as more of an attempt to gain popularity among the electorate than an indication that they were looking to go to war with one of Cambodia’s largest trade partners.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan and Cambodian People’s Party spokesmen Sok Eysan and Sous Yara could not be reached for comment yesterday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry declined to comment on the premier’s statement.