Days after signing a statement welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping to Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy took to Radio Free Asia to slam China for enabling human rights abuses in the Kingdom with no-strings-attached loans.
Over the past two decades, China has invested billions of dollars in mining, hydro-power dams, and other infrastructure projects in Cambodia. During a visit to the Kingdom last week, Xi cemented future cooperation between the two countries with the signing of 31 agreements, including $238 million in soft loans, $89 million in debt forgiveness and $15 million in military aid.
But according to Rainsy, this influx of funding has fuelled corruption and offered questionable economic advantages.
“There are [Chinese-funded] mines and deforestation, and the people are victims of those projects; they are victims of land grabbing and abuse, and China doesn’t give any consideration to human rights,” Rainsy elaborated in an interview yesterday. “That’s why the Cambodian government likes to get loans from China, it is easy money.”
“The net benefit for Cambodia is unclear, because China takes back with one hand what she gives with the other,” he added, arguing that Chinese projects often pillage Cambodia’s natural resources and disproportionately benefit China.
However, Rainsy’s position appeared to be at odds with his party’s official stance.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said it was up to the ruling CPP to ensure respect for human rights, not the Chinese. “We want to build a relationship with all countries in the world,” he added. “Whether or not Chinese loans are providing a benefit to Cambodia depends on the way they are used by the politicians and the ruling party.”
Traditionally, the CNRP has maintained a pro-China line. In 2014, Rainsy himself announced that his party supported China in its territorial dispute with Vietnam in the South China Sea. And just days ago, in a CNRP statement, Rainsy and deputy party leader Kem Sokha welcomed Xi to Cambodia with great fanfare.
Human rights consultant Billy Tai yesterday agreed that Chinese aid contributed to human rights abuses, but said a lack of government oversight was exacerbating the problem.
“The lack of governance over large-scale private investment for development is what’s directly contributing to human rights abuses,” Tai said. “Those funds can be from China, but also from other countries.”