Prime Minister Hun Sen has reiterated his opposition to Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, claiming that the aggression was “unacceptable” and that Cambodia cannot be neutral on this issue.
The reaffirmation was in response to critics who claimed that Cambodia had voted against Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine for reasons including having an underdeveloped military and the lack of military service obligation, and that the Cambodian army is full of generals with “big bellies” who would not be able to lead on the battlefield effectively.
Speaking at the official inauguration of the Ear, Nose and Throat Centre at Preah Ang Duong Hospital in Phnom Penh on March 28, Hun Sen stated that only three people have the right to speak formally for foreign policy on behalf of Cambodia: the King, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Prime Minister.
He said the critics, who he did not name, had raised the question of whether Cambodia would support Russian military action in Ukraine. He warned them to be “mindful with their words” because such commentary made it seem as though they are attempting to influence a change in Cambodia’s stance on the conflict.
Hun Sen stressed that Cambodia’s foreign policy is based on principles of the law and the UN Charter, and that the Kingdom does not use or threaten to use force in international disputes.
Cambodia has always opposed the use of military force, not only in the Russia-Ukraine war, but in any country, he said.
Hun Sen added that Cambodia’s official position is to respect the sovereignty and independence of the people of other nations, saying that Ukraine’s sovereignty is deserving of equal respect as that of Cambodia’s among the Kingdom’s people.
“Cambodia takes a principled stand not just about Russia. We are always against any country invading another nation, even Russia, who is our friend and used to help us. We’ve had a relationship since the 1950s, but this will change as it has invaded Ukraine,” he said.
Discussing Russia’s advance on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Hun Sen said: “Such an act of aggression is unacceptable for Cambodia and we cannot be neutral. In the future, if any country acts in the same way to Cambodia, who does Cambodia have to depend on?
“We pursue a foreign policy based on the law and the UN Charter. We do not pursue a foreign policy based on force.”
Cambodia has twice voted in international forums against Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.
Early this month, Cambodia co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution and voted in favour of denouncing Russia’s military action in Ukraine.
Hun Sen last week told Cambodian representatives to take a stand in support of any decision calling for an end to such actions from Russia.
Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, told The Post that the Kingdom’s foreign policy was a “cautious” stance that small states must adhere to in order to ensure the state’s survival in the international rule-based order.
He said the small state’s choice is “usually” to abide by international law and the UN Charter to resolve disputes peacefully.
“When Cambodia condemns the aggression of large states against small states, it shows that the Kingdom takes precautions to prevent such aggression from happening in the future.
“Big neighbouring countries may use security as a political justification to invade smaller ones, but such actions distance them from international law and the [concept of the] right to self-determination as a sovereign state,” he said.