Japan’s foreign minister joined the EU in voicing alarm over the dissolution of the CNRP to Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn at a ministerial summit in Myanmar on Monday – even as his Chinese counterpart reiterated Beijing’s support for the move.
Japan, which is typically tight-lipped on political issues, is funding and offering technical assistance for the 2018 national elections along with the EU.
In a meeting with Sokhonn at the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting of Foreign Ministers’ (ASEM), Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Kazuyuki Nakane “expressed concern” over last week’s dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, and urged the Kingdom to conduct next year’s election “in a way that appropriately reflects the will of the people”, said Hironori Suzuki, counsellor for the Embassy of Japan in Phnom Penh.
However, Japan will continue to provide assistance to the National Election Committee while “keep[ing] dialogue” with the Cambodian government, Suzuki said.
Japan joins several Western countries in their disapproval of the Supreme Court’s decision last week, though Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he does not care about international criticism. In a speech on Sunday, the premier dared the international community to cut aid, saying he was confident China would fill the gap.
Indeed, the meeting between Sokhonn and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday struck a decidedly more friendly tone, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry provided to Reuters.
According to the statement, China “supports the Cambodian side’s efforts to protect political stability and achieve economic development”, and believes the Cambodian government can hold elections “smoothly” next year.
In her own meeting with Sokhonn at the summit, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini repeated warnings that Cambodia is risking its preferential trade agreements with the EU.
She also criticised Cambodia’s “significant steps away from the path of pluralism and democracy”.
Bates Gill, a professor of Asia-Pacific security studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, said China’s political support helps Cambodian leaders deflect criticism from the international community.
“Given the deepening political and economic relationship between Phnom Penh and Beijing, it should come as no surprise that Cambodia’s leaders value support from China above disapproval from the United States and Europe,” Gill said in an email.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at the College of ASEAN Community Studies at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said Beijing is giving Hun Sen political legitimacy in exchange for preferential treatment for Chinese companies doing business in the Kingdom.
“It is such a reciprocal arrangement which explains why Phnom Penh values Beijing’s opinions most and why Beijing is so supportive of Hun Sen,” Chambers said in an email.
Also yesterday, Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallström said the Scandinavian nation “is currently reviewing the forms of our engagement in Cambodia” and will not initiate any new development agreements, except in education and research.