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Hun Sen: we won’t be bought

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After a week of global media reports dissecting Cambodia’s relationship with China, Prime Minister Hun Sen had apparently had enough yesterday – lashing out at the media and analysts he termed “crazy” in what proved an unexpected conclusion to the 20th ASEAN Summit.

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The premier spent a good part of the concluding press conference defending his government from claims that China was buying its support.

“Cambodia is not [being] bought by anyone,” he said, referring to the millions of dollars in loans and aid Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged on Saturday.

Hun Sen went on to praise China at length for “saving” the ASEAN economy in 1997 and showing generosity to Europe during the 2008 economic crisis, but insisted he had never felt pressure from Chinese leaders to “do this or do that”.

That, of course, was precisely the suggestion of some analysts, who posited that last weekend’s visit by Hu had been made with the intention of enlisting Cambodia’s aid in squelching debate on the controversial South China Sea issue.

Hun Sen said that, contrary to published reports, the South China Sea had always been on the summit’s agenda. “That is a serious misunderstanding. The South China Sea must always be in discussions until the completion of the Code of Conduct,” he said.

And it wasn’t just journalists who had gotten it wrong, he said, saying a certain “bald-headed doctor”, believed to be a reference to independent analyst Dr Lao Mong Hay, a critic of the China-Cambodia relat-ionship, had also misread the situation.

“I regret the thinking of some political analysts, including the bald-headed doctor,” he said. “The Chinese president was not coming to talk about [the South China Sea]. Doctors, or [those who are] not doctors, should learn more information.”

The prime minister also used his time in front of the assembled international press to criticise a letter he said opposition leader Sam Rainsy had sent to Hu encouraging China to resolve the South China Sea dispute individually with each country involved.

It was “silly philosophy,” he said.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for Sam Rainsy, said ASEAN meetings were places to discuss important issues, not attack someone’s opinions. “We should not take our internal differences into ASEAN meetings,” he said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Hun Sen’s comments had given the world a glimpse of what the Cambodian government was like.

“The international community is watching ASEAN, and in a way, they get to see the real government,” he said.

“There are so many different things ASEAN needs to focus on. Diverting attention away from them to a personal attack is fairly unprofessional.”

Dr Lao Mong Hay said Hun Sen, “as head of government”, had the right to make such comments.

“I don’t assume it is me Hun Sen is referring to . . . there are other commentators,” he said.

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