Former opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua paid visits to Japan and Indonesia last week, appealing for help from the regional powers amidst an ongoing political crackdown in Cambodia.
Since the arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha in September, and the party’s subsequent forced dissolution in November, the remnants of the opposition party have lobbied for international pressure on the government. While the United States and European Union withdrew funding for the upcoming national elections, Japan has been steadfast in its financial support and earlier in April sent Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
During a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo last Thursday, Rainsy said Hun Sen had “killed democracy in Cambodia” and had negated the “hard work” of the international community, including that of Japan, over the last 25 years.
Rainsy seemed to take a diplomatic approach, declaring his gratitude for Japan's assistance in building infrastructure and demining the bomb-ridden countryside while saying that Japan has “leverage” to influence Cambodia, as a link between the government and the democratic world.
“We understand the position of Japan … Japan is a regional power. It’s in the region, so she has to defend her interests,” he said, adding that it is “very well placed to play the role of an intermediary to help reestablish dialogue between the different Cambodian parties”.
While Japan has indeed floated the idea of talks between the government and the opposition, it was quickly rejected by the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
Rainsy also hinted at the possibility of factional infighting within the CPP, and claimed Vietnam could back a rival of Hun Sen’s to prevent the Kingdom from completing its shift towards China – an assertion CPP spokesman Sok Eysan called “fake news, plastic news”.
Meanwhile, during a visit to Indonesia that concluded on Wednesday, Sochua and Rainsy met with Fadli Zon, Deputy Speaker of Indonesia's House of Representatives, and other legislators.
“We had a discussion about promoting democracy and rebuilding democracy in Cambodia … and they promised that they will take this issue and our messages and concerns through the National Assembly to the Indonesian government,” she said.
An Indonesian outlet also reported that Sochua had claimed Cambodia is close to bankruptcy, due to its debt to China, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
According to an analysis by The Post at the end of 2017, around half of Cambodia’s debt is owed to China. Overall, its total debt of $6.2 billion is about 28 percent of the country’s GDP.
Miguel Chanco, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, said on Wedesday that he “wouldn't go so far as to say that [Cambodia] is ‘near bankruptcy’”. While acknowledging a lack of clarity in Cambodia's debt, he said the national bank has enough foreign reserves to continue servicing debt without adverse effects.
In a message on Wednesday, Sochua said elections without the CNRP “should not be considered genuine” and urged Indonesia and Japan to see the democratisation of Cambodia as a regional “security issue”.
She stood by her belief that the economic situation in Cambodia is “fragile” due to the “heavy reliance” on the textile industry and international loans.
“Without these sources the country could face bankruptcy,” she said.
Calling Sochua and Rainsy “grandmother” and “grandfather”, Eysan dismissed their claims on Wednesday, saying that they “run to hug the foreigners’ hands and legs”.