In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party.
“You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all the mistake of the group of opposition officials. Hun Sen won’t die; the one who will die is the workers,” he told the gathering in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
Following the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s widely condemned dissolution last week, former party officials abroad have urged the international community to impose targeted sanctions on the government. After withdrawing funding for the National Election Committee last week, the US – along with the European Union – has hinted at taking further concrete steps.
In 2016, exports to the EU and US accounted for a total of 60 percent of Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports. The 700,000-strong sector receives favourable treatment under the US’ Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) and the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative.
In a statement last week, the EU reminded Cambodia that “fundamental human rights is a prerequisite” for eligibility for the initiative.
In his speech yesterday, the premier reminded the assembled crowd of thousands that the ruling party was responsible for their welfare.
“Remember that what you have in your hands today is from the efforts of the CPP; it’s not from the opposition party. They . . . are continuing to appeal to foreign countries to stop buying goods from Cambodia,” he said.
Neither the US Embassy nor the EU Delegation in Cambodia responded to requests for comment.
Garment worker Duong Tola said he was worried about the possibility of the EU and US cancelling orders, but said he blamed the government, not the CNRP, for any possible negative effects.
“You are the ones who negotiate with those buyers; if they don’t purchase orders, it is your mistake,” Duong said, adding top officials are “sleeping on a pile of money”.
Mu Sochua, former deputy president of the CNRP, appeared to endorse the notion of sanctions against the garment industry yesterday, saying “human rights and democracy [are] prerequisites to EBA and GSP set up by EU and USA”.
“If prerequisites are not met then buyers must comply to their ethics,” she added.
Hun Sen also took the opportunity yesterday to threaten former opposition leader Sam Rainsy with arrest if he ever returns to Asia.
“Please don’t come to visit Asian countries,” he said. “Don’t forget, when you come [we can] send our intelligence agency to arrest you.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson