A US congressional committee’s resolution demanding an end to the government’s “harassment and intimidation” of the opposition issued early Friday morning barely had time to register before being overshadowed by the announcement of yet another large injection of Chinese cash.
Days after Cambodia reiterated its disregard for a South China Sea arbitration ruling, Prime Minister Hun Sen unveiled a three-year $530 million aid package from China, with a government spokesman yesterday saying it was not an “award” for staying away from the issue.
Taking to his Facebook page, Hun Sen said the offer was made at the conclusion of a bilateral meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting in Mongolia last week.
“At the request of Samdech, China has announced it will grant Cambodia some 3.6 billion yuan, equal to almost $600 million, to develop the country for three years including aid for election assistance, health, education sectors, and clean water to benefit the people of Cambodia,” the post reads.
Last week’s arbitration decision at The Hague eviscerated China’s claim to large swaths of the South China Sea, ruling in favour of the Philippines on nearly every point. In the lead-up to the ruling, the premier had declared it a “political conspiracy” against China, saying it was a bilateral issue between China and the Philippines, a stance widely interpreted to be influenced by Chinese pressure.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that the timing of the aid had nothing to do with the arbitration ruling and that the new cash influx was simply part of an ongoing process with their Chinese counterparts.
But Chinese influence on the issue, real or imagined, received its first test over the weekend, according to Japanese media.
Wire service Jiji News reported on Saturday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had personally lobbied Hun Sen over the issue, stressing the need to accept The Hague’s ruling, saying it was binding and based on the rule of law. Foreign Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday to verify the meeting.
The US House of Representatives committee resolution, meanwhile, called for a “cessation of ongoing human rights violations” in Cambodia and urged Hun Sen to end the “harassment and intimidation” of the opposition, as well as drop all “politically motivated” charges against them.
That resolution follows a US Senate committee’s move earlier this month to insert language into an upcoming aid bill that would make funds contingent on improved treatment of Cambodian civil society and the opposition. Siphan at the time called it an attempt to “bribe the rule of law”.