Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday shot another arrow at the Kingdom’s relations with the US, calling his country’s yet-unpaid loan of $500 million borrowed by the regime of Lon Nol “a very dirty debt”.
He contrasted that by praising Japan for its aid to the Kingdom, which an analyst claimed was an attempt to stoke anti-US fervour before the July 29 national polls.
Speaking at the inauguration of a new multipurpose terminal at the state-owned Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS) – built with $74 million from the Japanese government – the premier criticised the terms of the debt, loaned to Nol’s administration in the 1970s.
The prime minister said it was “painful” that a superpower that dropped bombs and killed innocent Cambodians now insisted on being paid back.
Cambodian officials have on many occasions called on the US to forgive the debt, which is now at more than $500 million including interest and fees.
Hun Sen praised the Japanese government, claiming his administration had got some money from it to repay debts. No figures were named, but Hun Sen said all loans from Tokyo were settled by 1998.
“[The US-backed Lon Nol regime] purchased the bombs to drop on our head and [the US government] asked us to pay them the money. Negotiation has not completed. Now, they continue to add interest."
“They can do whatever they want. We accept our sovereign debts. However, we ask them to convert the money repaid into Cambodia’s development."
“Because of the coup which created an illegal government to borrow money from the US, I spoke with [President] Obama before. Obama said he had to explain to the US Congress."
“Then, I told President Barack Obama that I am the one having difficulty because this state debt started from the coup that was supported by the US government. The coup was against Norodom Sihanouk and his son is the King now,” Hun Sen stated.
The prime minister claimed he made the same appeal to President Donald Trump during the Asean-US Summit in Manila last year.
“I used one word at the Asean-US Summit with Donald Trump. I compared [the debt] to the hammer used to hit me and you ask me to pay for the hammer?”
He said it was Japan’s policy not to issue new loans before old ones were repaid.
“But Japan found an easy solution which helped Cambodia repay old debts. Japan did not ask for interest on top of the capital. Japan provided grant money and other equipment like zinc, oil and other things to Cambodia to sell."
“Cambodia sold those and then paid Japan back. The money became a ‘support budget’ which Cambodia could use,” he said.
On Monday, Arend Zwartjecs, a Public Affairs Officer at US Embassy, declined comment.
However, Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser for international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand, believes Hun Sen’s statement had specific purposes.
“His rhetoric serves two purposes: First, stoking up anti-US fervour with Khmer people in the run-up to the general election. Second, showing Japan (and China) that Cambodia is firmly not aligned with Washington,” he said.