Cambodian leaders returned yesterday from a visit to China with at least one claiming that China had not only pledged further investment but also predicted certain victory for the ruling CPP in July’s parliamentary elections.
Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, who attended the week’s meetings between Prime Minister Hun Sen and top Chinese leaders, told journalists at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday that Chinese leaders had said they were sure the majority of Cambodians supported the prime minister.
“Chinese leaders have expressed their opinion that Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party will no doubt triumph in the forthcoming parliamentary election, and they pledged to boost national development for the benefit of the Cambodian people,” Prasidh said.
He added that the relationship between China and Cambodia was the strongest it ever had been, with close “strategic ties”.
The relationship between the two governments, ruling parties and peoples was stronger than those between China and any of its other neighbours, Prasidh added.
“Chinese leaders said that they have been very appreciative of [Hun Sen] and that they will continue to support him, and therefore Chinese investments and tourists will flow into Cambodia.”
Representatives of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Press and Media Service referred questions about Prasidh’s statements to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.
Embassy spokesman Yang Tian Yue said he had not heard any reports of Chinese leaders predicting a CPP victory, adding that he might receive more information about the Beijing meetings in the next days.
In the meantime, he referred the Post to the joint communiqué issued by the two governments on Tuesday, and to an article about Prasidh’s airport press conference published yesterday by Chinese government news agency Xinhua, neither of which make mention of elections or political parties.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said he found it strange that Chinese leaders would be declaring a CPP victory before the election even had taken place.
“I think that in a democratic country, one cannot predict the outcome of an election,” he said. “But maybe the Chinese would mention it because they knew the CPP already plans to cheat the election.”
“I think the Chinese political [elite] wish to have the CPP continue to run the country so they can also benefit politically and economically from this government,” he said.
“I think the Chinese always interfere with Cambodian politics.”
During the last elections, the SRP had heard that China had given money and other support to the CPP and Funcinpec despite election laws prohibiting such involvement by foreign countries, he said.
Fellow SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, however, said China should be happy to see the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party, an amalgam of the SRP and Human Rights Party, win the July elections.
While the new government would seek investment from a broader range of countries, China would see larger returns on investments if corrupt CPP officials were not siphoning off funds, he said.
Carlyle Thayer, Emeritus Professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of New South Wales, said he found it unlikely that Chinese leaders would have declared a sure CPP victory.
“China is pretty studious in public, on any occasions like this, not interfering in the affairs of another country,” he said.
He added that it was clear the elections’ winner was “going to be the CPP, even if they lose a bit from last time. China doesn’t need to say that. It sounds like the CPP is trying to bolster their stability.”
Despite Hun Sen’s threat last month that he would cancel planned development projects if the CPP were not elected, Thayer said Cambodia and China’s mutual interest in cooperation “wouldn’t go away” if a new party were elected.
At the same time, he and independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay noted that China’s relationship with the CPP government allowed Chinese investors particular freedom for projects without significant public scrutiny, with Mong Hay pointing to the Lower Sesan 2 hydroelectric dam agreement as one such project.