Government mouthpiece Fresh News will launch a Chinese version of its website on Monday, CEO Lim Cheavutha said today.
Cheavutha said he expected support from Chinese investors and “Chinese people who want to follow the political situation in Cambodia”.
“We will publish in Chinese because we have seen that in the market in Cambodia, there are many Chinese investors who come to invest in our country,” he said.
Indeed, Chinese investment in Cambodia has steadily increased, and political ties between the two countries have tightened as Prime Minister Hun Sen increasingly pivots towards Beijing and away from traditional Western development partners. China has been perhaps the only country to publicly support the ruling party’s crackdown on the opposition, amid near-universal international condemnation.
Fresh News itself played a role in the crackdown, posting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories from pro-government Facebook pages accusing the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party of conspiring with foreign agents to topple the government. The accusations were used as justification for dissolving the party in November.
Pa Nguon Teang, independent media observer, said that the plan might be both economically and politically motivated.
“First, Fresh News may think that there are more Chinese [people and investors] in Cambodia and . . . second, as Fresh News is the Cambodian government’s mouthpiece, it may want to promote the government’s image and relationship to the Chinese government and people.”
He added, however, that “when the Cambodian government moves closer to China, there are increasingly negative impacts on freedoms of press and speech in Cambodia”.
Cheavutha, meanwhile, rejected the notion the site was specifically aimed at advancing the government’s interests, saying he had been planning to create a Chinese version for years.
“The purpose of launching the Chinese-language version of Fresh News is to expand the small news market in Cambodia to a broader range of countries in the Asean region, as well as in the world,” he said.
“Fresh News will share information about the activities that the government of Cambodia has been doing for the people and the economy of Cambodia to the Chinese people living around the world, as well as Chinese powers.”
He added that they had to decide to launch the Chinese version now after the site’s English version attracted “a lot of attention from outside the country” over the past six months.