Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM, US’s war of words escalates

PM, US’s war of words escalates

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a University of Health Sciences graduation ceremony yesterday at Phnom Penh's Diamond Island.
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a University of Health Sciences graduation ceremony yesterday at Phnom Penh's Diamond Island. Facebook

PM, US’s war of words escalates

Prime Minister Hun Sen again lashed out at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, alleging it was the “mastermind” of opposition leader Kem Sokha’s purported “treasonous plot” and questioning its nascent social media campaign highlighting the US’s positive engagement in the Kingdom.

Anti-US rhetoric has reached a fever pitch following the jailing of Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha after an old video was recently circulated showing him saying he had received assistance from the United States to plan his political career. He has since been charged with “treason”.

Government mouthpiece Fresh News has also pumped out unverified stories, mostly from anonymous readers and Facebook users, alleging that US-funded NGOs – including the recently expelled National Democratic Institute – were part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Cambodian government.

The premier continued this line of attack yesterday, saying the US was looking to “destroy” the country by being the “initiator” and “mastermind” supporting the “puppet”, a thinly veiled reference to Sokha. He also resurrected long-held grouses with the US over its bombing campaign in the early 1970s and an outstanding Lon Nol-era debt.

Some “2.7 million tonnes of bombs have not yet been completely dealt with”, Hun Sen said. “[They] attacked us and [then] demand money from us,” he added, declaring the irony “delicious”.

“And this group is the one who destroys, is the initiator, who is the mastermind, and its puppet is in Cambodia.”

Hun Sen also took umbrage with former US Ambassador William Todd’s flashing a peace sign – which was interpreted as a confusing cultural faux pas – after a meeting of lawmakers with King Norodom Sihamoni in 2013. Mimicking the gesture yesterday, Hun Sen called Todd a “gangster”, and took a swipe at the embassy’s attempts to be a “parent” to Cambodia.

“We cannot accept such a diplomatic attitude. And I hope that such things won’t happen in the attitudes of other diplomats,” he said, speaking at a graduation ceremony for medical students.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy on Friday launched the hashtag “#RedHerringsKH”, using a term for misleading information designed to distract people from relevant issues – an apparent reference to the ongoing furore surrounding its purported collusion with Sokha.

It has since published three Facebook posts with the hashtag, all titled “What does the United States do in #Cambodia?” The three posts described the embassy’s efforts to protect 2.6 million hectares of forest, preserve temples and improve reading levels among primary school students.

“What does the United States do in Cambodia? We save temples!” one post reads, ending with an admonition to “Watch out for #RedHerringsKH”.

The campaign seemed to have caught the attention of Hun Sen, who asked, “Why is your Facebook posting a fish and interpreting [the situation] differently?”

The embassy said it had no comment yesterday.

Ou Virak, founder of local think tank Future Forum, said while past attacks on the US had been mostly sporadic, the recent push to link the country to an anti-government conspiracy was “overboard”, and could provoke pushback.

“They [the US] are sending a subtle message. They want the government to understand the message.”

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said the attacks on the US would falter, no matter “how loudly or strongly Typhoon Hun Sen howls”, and “the Cambodian people will end up picking up the mess and paying the bills, just like [they] always have to do”.

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol