Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday accused foreign states of bullying Cambodia over its position on the South China Sea dispute while also lashing out at criticism that the country had descended into a “political crisis”.
The premier delivered the speech to about 10,000 Cambodian People’s Party members at an event celebrating the 65th anniversary of the creation of the ruling party, which links its birth to the establishment of a Cambodian Communist Party in 1951.
Since its incarnation as the CPP for the 1993 elections, the party and its leader have repeatedly been criticised for using the judiciary to attack political opponents.
Most recently, with the 2017 commune ballot approaching, a string of legal cases has been brought against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, including its president, Sam Rainsy, who has again fled into self-exile, and its deputy, Kem Sokha, who is holed-up in his party’s headquarters to avoid arrest.
However, speaking yesterday at his party’s headquarters, the prime minister sought to cast the government as the victim of political agendas, both domestically and internationally.
“Cambodia does not suffer any crisis,” he told the crowd, according to a copy of his speech. “Efforts by some people to make noise that the country is in crisis or political tension is in fact a dishonest trick to deceive public opinion.
“In truth, it is a personal crisis of a small number of people who had committed wrongdoings, and legal violations, for which the court has subpoenaed them. They are not political issues. As with other social organisations, a political party should not link itself with individuals who committed [crimes].”
CPP officials have repeatedly accused the CNRP of attempting to foment a “colour revolution” – a reference to largely peaceful popular movements that have toppled regimes in Eastern Europe and the Middle East – which they say threatens the country’s stability, an assertion the premier reiterated yesterday, saying “we will not let anyone destroy it”.
Responding yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monivann pointed to condemnation of the government’s actions by the United Nations and European Union to discredit the premier’s claims.
“The measures of the ruling party are clearly politically motivated,” he said.
EU parliamentarians last month threatened to review the bloc’s aid to Cambodia because of what it termed “politically motivated” cases.
Yesterday, with foreign diplomats in attendance, Hun Sen also turned his guns on what he says is unfair pressure by foreign powers on Cambodia.
In particular, he referred to lobbying by countries for Cambodia to back an ASEAN statement supporting an impending international court verdict on the Philippines’ claim against China in the contested South China Sea.
Cambodia has been accused of backing Beijing in the dispute by insisting the bloc has no role to play in the dispute and that it should be dealt with bilaterally between China and other claimants.
Cambodia was fingered as being one of the countries behind the scuttling of a joint statement on the matter by ASEAN foreign ministers this month, a seeming repeat of its alleged sand-bagging of a similar statement when Phnom Penh hosted the ASEAN summit in 2012.
Yesterday, the premier asserted Cambodia was neutral but had “again and again become a victim”.
He accused countries from outside the bloc of taking the issue hostage, saying they should stop interfering in the dispute.
“The CPP does not support, and more so is against, any declaration by ASEAN to support the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in relation to the South China Sea dispute … some countries outside the region have wire-pulled and pressured ASEAN members even before the court reaches a decision,” he said.
“The CPP foresees this issue, and views it as the worst political collusion in the framework of international politics, the result of which would lead to division among ASEAN members themselves and between ASEAN and China.”