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Cambodian National Rescue Party deputy leader Kem Sokha and the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Bu Jianguo
Cambodian National Rescue Party deputy leader Kem Sokha and the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Bu Jianguo, pose for photos during a meeting at the National Assembly yesterday. Pha Lina

Sokha meets Chinese envoy

Opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha yesterday pledged his support for Chinese investment in Cambodia in a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Bu Jianguo, while at the same time urging the Kingdom’s patron to focus on quality and transparency in its undertakings in the country.

Sokha, who was meeting Bu in his capacity as first deputy president of the National Assembly, also said he backed Chinese investment in hydropower dams, despite controversies over a highly publicised project in the Areng Valley.

“I do not blame the Chinese government or Chinese investment, but I blame the Cambodian government, which is corrupt and [has] no transparency,” Sokha told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

“Through the ambassador, I proposed that the Chinese government advise investors to focus on quality and transparency in their investment projects so that the Cambodian people will feel warmth towards those investments,” Sokha said.

“She replied that the Chinese government absolutely fights against corruption, whether it’s the ‘tiger’ or the ‘fly’,” he continued, before complaining the Cambodian government only goes after “flies”, or lower-level officials.

Sokha said that despite being the opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party needed to have “wider cooperation with the Chinese government”.

The CNRP has sought to cosy up to China following its impressive gains in the 2013 election. In January last year, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said the opposition strongly supported China in disputes with Vietnam in the South China Sea.

The government has previously been seen to have taken China’s side in controversial maritime disputes, particularly during its ASEAN chairmanship in 2012, and has been lavishly rewarded with billions of dollars in investment and loans.

Chinese government media, meanwhile, has published unprecedented criticisms of the ruling CPP in the aftermath of the 2013 poll. State news agency Xinhua published an unusual article in December 2013 that quoted analysts highly critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen, citing "cronyism, rampant corruption, forced evictions, illegal immigration and the lack of an independent judicial system".

Xinhua said the CPP would have to make “serious and deep reforms” this mandate if it wanted to win the 2018 national elections.

Kem Ley, an analyst who recently entered the political sphere, yesterday said the opposition should be more forcefully speaking out about “human rights violations and corruption” accompanying Chinese investments in Cambodia.

“It’s not solving problems if [they] are just making friendship with China in order to find their support in 2017 and 2018,” he said.

Ambassador Bu did not speak to reporters yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

An earlier version of this story attributed a news story critical of the CPP to the Chinese government. This version attributes it to Chinese government media, specifically Xinhua.
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