With the national election scheduled to take place in less than two months, Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned foreign nations and their diplomats not to interfere into Cambodia’s domestic affairs.
He also hinted that their statements on court verdicts handed down to any individual could result in that person serving the full sentence, as he would not request royal pardons for them.
“Those individuals will serve their full sentences because you love them too much. I won’t pardon them because I don’t trust you. I say this frankly,” the premier said as he addressed the May 23 inauguration of a new facility at Calmette hospital in Phnom Penh.
“Yesterday, I said this before Chinese ambassador [Wang Wentian]. Today, I say this before the ambassadors of France, Japan and other countries. How can I trust you when you speak to me with one voice and then use another to talk to those who have been found guilty by the courts? What are you taking me for?” he asked rhetorically.
“Do you see me as a child who is still biting fingers? Do you think you can shake hands with me, step on my foot at the same time and get away with it? This must end, immediately,” he warned.
Hun Sen said diplomats should not link the relationship between Cambodia and their country to the Kingdom’s internal affairs.
“For example, take the case of one particular individual who was sentenced by the court. Why haven’t I pardoned him? Because I don’t trust foreigners who interfere into my country’s internal affairs,” he said without naming names.
According to the prime minister, some diplomats have released statements in the run-up to the July 23 election – a move he deems to be an attempt to interfere in Cambodia’s affairs and a “disturbance”.
“From now until the election day, please stay calm and allow us to apply our domestic principles to solve democracy issues in Cambodia,” he said. “I am fed up with the issue of interference.”
On May 22, during the celebration of the 10th anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Cambodia has joined, Hun Sen made similar comments, noting that some foreign diplomats had visited a politician who was still subject to court proceedings.
“To say the least, there were legal standards that required the courts to take action. While he was on trial, they visited him at his home. He was even invited to visit embassies while on trial for conspiring with a foreign nation,” he said, apparently referring to former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was found guilty by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for treason and sentenced to 27 years, although he was permitted to serve it at his home under court supervision.
Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Sokha had forgotten himself by failing to respect the court’s decision, which prohibited him from meeting with foreign officials and activists.
Instead of following the court’s order, Sokha still met with the officials of several international organisations.
“In my opinion, we must respect the laws of the land, in an orderly manner and without violating the sovereignty of the state,” he said.
On May 22, Hun Sen also reiterated that Cambodia is not hosting a Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base and that China could not order Cambodia around.
“If you do not believe me, I will not believe you either. It is not your right alone, it is my right, too. You have to understand this. At the ASEAN Summit [in Phnom Penh], I spoke clearly about the issue, but the Ream accusations are still being made. I have told you that Ream is on land and clearly visible, but what we are curious about is underwater. Is it nuclear?” he asked.
Hun Sen appeared to use the phrasing to refer to a recent nuclear submarine deal made by AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and US.
In March, he raised the nuclear submarine issue once after meeting with new Australian ambassador to Cambodia Justin Whyatt.
Australia’s defence ministry announced that the US intends to sell Australia three Virginia Class SSNs – nuclear-powered submarines – from the early 2030s. The deal is subject to approval by the US Congress. Two additional submarines may be purchased if required.
“The SSN Virginia Class will provide Australia with a nuclear-powered submarine capability as early as possible,” it said.
“This acquisition will eliminate any capability gap and increase the three nations’ [Australia, UK and US] ability to deter aggression and contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” it added.
Peou said the Ream issue remains a topic repeatedly raised to support various political agendas. He said the government of any country has the right to develop its defence capabilities, with the Ream Naval Base being a prime example.
“Superpowers should not be sensitive about the expansion of our defence sector. If they do so, it is just a matter of them attempting to further their own geopolitical agendas,” he said.