The Kingdom’s top politicians sent out different messages for the New Year, with self-exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy noticeably changing his tune regarding the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has apparently backtracked on his call for the EU to withdraw its EBA scheme.
In his previous New Year’s message, he claimed that the people wanted to see the EBA withdrawn in exchange for real democracy and that workers were willing to suffer short-term effects of the possible suspension.
While reiterating his appeal to uphold democracy and respect human rights in his 2020 New Year’s message, Rainsy expressed high hopes for the Kingdom to maintain its EBA status.
“May Cambodia’s current leadership realise their faults and mistakes and reform their unjust and destructive policies by abiding by democratic principles, which would help, among other things, to preserve Cambodia’s current EBA status,” he said.
Cambodia is the second-largest beneficiary of the EBA scheme, accounting for 18 per cent of all imports to the EU market last year, the European Commission said on November 12.
The Kingdom’s exports to the EU last year totalled €5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) – 95 per cent of which entered the EU duty-free.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng released similar messages wishing for lasting peace.
“A peaceful [Cambodia] provides all citizens an opportunity to travel freely near and far, inside and outside the country, especially during this New Year, without any concerns,” Hun Sen said in his Facebook post along with a photo of him and his wife Bun Rany.
Sar Kheng, on his part, sent out two messages addressed to the National Police, ministry officials, and the public.
He commended the police and ministry officials for their efforts and commitment to fulfilling their tasks with a high sense of responsibility and achievements last year.
“I would like to place high value on the commitment of police at all levels and civil servants under the ministry to maintaining peace, public order and social security, particularly to preventing a plot by a treasonous rebel group to destroy peace,” he said, referring to the alleged coup plot by Rainsy supporters.
He said their contribution had helped Cambodia maintain independence, peace, sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic development and gradual prosperity in line with democratic, multi-party principles.
In his message to the public, Kheng said while the Kingdom had encountered some challenges last year, it had achieved great results in development thanks to well-established peace and political stability.
“I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the spirit and patriotism of people from all walks of life for their contribution to protect peace, territory, and political stability.
“The people jointly placed their priorities on our national interests and defeated all destructive attempts to break up unity, solidarity, and harmony in society,” he said.
Former CNRP president Kem Sokha, who is slated to stand trial on a treason charge later this month, echoed Hun Sen and Sar Kheng’s wishes for peace.
“May this new decade usher in a new chapter in history and real peace to Cambodia, and may the people attain happiness physically and mentally,” he said in a Facebook post.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned Sokha to appear for trial on the charge of “conspiracy with a foreign power” on January 15. He faces a maximum of 30 years imprisonment if found guilty.
Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said despite the Kingdom facing an EBA suspension and other challenges, it still has an opportunity to further develop the economy and boost its image on the international stage.
He said the political situation in the country had seen positive signs with Rainsy changing his tune and Sokha’s case concluded, pending a trial.
Phea said political stability and peace would continue to help Cambodia attract more foreign investments. On international relations, he said the Kingdom has extended diplomatic ties and would further boost its image when it hosts the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).
“Of course, even though Cambodia has been bracing for the possible loss of EBA, it remains more or less a concern and challenge for the country’s exporters. That is, we will lose a competitive advantage, but the Kingdom still has an opportunity to develop its economy,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Cambodia would have two major challenges in the coming months including the EU’s decision on Cambodia’s EBA status and the US’ interests in the region.
“America perceives its geo-strategic interests in this region will be in jeopardy if and when Cambodia no longer adheres to its policy of neutrality and is sucked into China’s sphere, and it has to use its coercive diplomacy to get Cambodia out of that sphere.
“And to what extent will the decision of both the EU and the US negatively affect Cambodia’s economy and its ensuing domestic politics is left to be seen,” he said.