Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said he had had enough of certain countries and opposition groups claiming Cambodia had allowed China to base its military in Cambodia and dared critics to show clear evidence.
Hun Sen made the remarks while presiding over a groudbreaking ceremony of two monumental bridge projects in southeastern Phnom Penh.
“Does China have an army in Cambodia? When did Cambodia grant a right to China to host its army? I would like to emphasise again that I’m tired of some foreigners and our Khmer who push this situation.
“I would like to emphasise that we get very tired of all of you. When the prime minister speaks, you don’t listen. From where do you have proof to claim Cambodia has signed a secret deal with China to use the Ream [military] port for 30 years. Come forward and reveal that proof! If you don’t have the proof, it means that you are lying,” he said.
“I spoke about the matter during a cabinet meeting. Don’t forget that in 1970, King Father Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in a coup d’etat explained away as a means to fight against the [North Vietnamese] Viet Cong on Cambodian land. Now you attempt to do this to me? You have repeatedly spoken about a Chinese presence.
“This group of plotters forced people to carry out activities against the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Hun Sen specifically mentioned Ho Vann, a former lawmaker of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). He said Vann had ordered people to stage protests in front of the Chinese and US embassies on October 23 against a Chinese military presence in Cambodia despite having no evidence to prove his claims.
“Why do you order a protest in front of the Chinese embassy against the country’s [alleged] military presence? You are crazy. Be careful for your wife and children who cannot sleep. They are fearing. If you can stop, stop doing that. You are that old so even if you usurp power, you would not allowed to be a leader,” he said.
“Of course, my sons used to visit Ho Vann’s wife, but you have to know that your wife and children are in Phnom Penh. You are a ringleader of treason. So, why wouldn’t I deal with traitors inside [the country] if they received the orders from the ringleader? So the authorities or the courts can deal with the matter legally. The [mastermind] escaped and ordered his thieves to carry out activities. Then the thieves would be imprisoned. Don’t push them into prison. You must remember,” he said.
The prime minister played the recorded voice of Vann who ordered protests and said Vann gave an additional $200 to protesters. However, the prime minister said he hoped Vann’s wife will not act as an agent to share money to the “rebels” in the country.
The prime minister also mentioned another opposition figure whom he did not identify.
“Another [ringleader] whose wife is a money changer at a market must also be careful. Your wife and children are still in Phnom Penh.
“Having said that, don’t say we are taking them hostage or threatening [his] family. No, your wife and children are fine here,” he said.
The prime minister said he regarded the allegation about a Chinese military presence as a step toward toppling the government.
He made it clear that only Chinese citizens and investors are present in Cambodia like in other countries.
Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the board of directors of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), said he did not know whether the accusation was true. The accusation, he said, can mislead the public and cause internal disputes.
Saing Koma said while he agreed with Hun Sen and wants accusers to show proof, he disagreed with the arrest of protesters. He said the government should only arrest the ringleader.
“It demands education for them [protesters] not to be misled. If the government says it’s not true, that there is no Chinese military presence in Cambodia, it must explain to them that this matter is not true.
“The government doesn’t need to arrest them because they keep hearing the accusation from others. It is a problem,” he said.
Kong Korm, a former CNRP senior adviser who is now the honourary president of the Khmer Will Party, compared the accusation to a Cambodian proverb about a man who accuses a dog of being crazy so he can beat the dog.
He said foreigners had accused Cambodia of having a Chinese military base when in reality it does not. He called it speculation for the future that had no real basis and is meant to scare and intimidate.
Korm said the US has a tendency to believe opposition politicians who have been vocal in their accusations against Cambodia. However, he said only the Cambodian people determine the truth.
He said Cambodia must adhere to the spirit of the Constitution and not allow any foreign military bases on its territory.
“There are people who can see but pretend to be blind, people who can hear but pretend to be deaf and who think only of their interests. They need to stop making foolish accusations and stop thinking only of their own interests.
“They need to think of the nation and the general public before making the accusations of a Chinese military presence. Please do not use this issue to destroy the peace of the people,” Korm said.
Former CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann agreed that Cambodia is a neutral country and abides by its Constitution.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he could not conclude whether there is a military base or if the Chinese military is present or not.
However, he said Cambodia is being “sucked” in China’s and America’s geopolitics. He said it would be better if Cambodia would call the co-chairs of the Paris Peace Accords to set up a neutral committee of Cambodia.
Such a committee, he said, should be tasked with examining the implementation of the terms and conditions of the agreements on neutrality focusing mainly on the ban on foreign military bases and personnel in Cambodia.
“It would be effective in helping to extricate the country from the very quagmire it was sucked into in the late 1960s,” he said.
History professor Diep Sophal said the accusation of a Chinese military presence in Cambodia can be compared to the accusation of Viet Cong in Cambodia in 1970 to attack King Father Norodom Sihanouk. He said the two have the same goal, which is to topple the government. The difference, he said, is the Viet Cong did have a presence in Cambodia while the Chinese military does not.
“The US makes accusations and we show them that it is not like that, but they still do it,” he said.
He raised an example of the US accusing Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction, which could not be found.
“Can Cambodia be like that? It depends on the US, and it depends on Khmer willingness. If there is no case like that and they still say it, what is their purpose? Do they want to destroy Khmer like they did Iraq or what?” he asked.