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The US’ Cambodia Act to ‘undermine bilateral ties’

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US Democrat Representative Alan Lowenthal speaks at a press conference in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2016. Nicholas Kamm/AFP

The US’ Cambodia Act to ‘undermine bilateral ties’

Reacting to the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018, which was passed in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday, the Kingdom’s government called it “normal” and merely an extension of how the country has been treated by the United States over the past 20 years.

US Embassy spokesperson Arend Zwartjes said the act was just halfway through a very long process. He declined further comment.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Act, which purports to promote free and fair elections, political freedom and human rights in Cambodia and eventually impose possible sanctions on the Kingdom’s officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Hun Sen, was nothing new.

Chheang Vannarith, Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the bill would jeopardise bilateral relations between the US and Cambodia.

“It will certainly make the relationship between the two countries worse. It will undermine bilateral relations and intensify geopolitical competition in the region,” he said.

Echoing this, Siphan said Cambodia is a sovereign state, and any act against the Kingdom’s leaders equally affects the people and will effectively destroy Cambodia-US relations.

“It will also cause considerable harm to US-Asean bilateral relations due to the economic bloc’s policy of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of foreign nations’,” he added.

The bill was originally submitted to the House of Representative in May this year by six US Representatives – Ted S Yoho, Alan Lowenthal, Edward Randall Royce, Eliot Lance Engel, Bradley James Sherman and Steve Chabot.

In his remarks to the House, California Representative Royce said Cambodia’s elections, which is set to take place on July 29, will not be legitimate.

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US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Ed Royce, holds a press conference during his visit to Iraq’s National Museum on April 4, 2016, in the capital Baghdad. AFP

In response, Siphan said for many years, those Representatives had never accepted the result of Cambodian elections. “In this sense, Cambodia doesn’t need any support from this small group,” he said.

“I expect that [US President] Donald Trump will not sign the Act because, based on our experience, the US government does not pay heed to the agendas of a handful of politicians who have no inkling of what they are talking about."

“Furthermore, over the past 20 years, the US Representatives and even its Senate has always been against the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and [caretaker Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” he said.

“So this latest action is nothing new and will not be enforced against Cambodia which is a sovereign state.”

Move will be ‘ineffective’

He stressed that Cambodia has never been the enemy of the US, and has never gone against the interest of that country.

“We just want Cambodia to continue as an independent and sovereign state and a nation that has friendly ties to the US.

“The US or even Australia does not want third countries to interfere in their elections, so why should Cambodia be any different?” he asked.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said it was the Representatives’ right to pass any Act in their own country as the matter is outside Cambodian authority.

“They can do whatever they want within the scope of their country. But they cannot apply their law in Cambodia or force us to respect it."

“Therefore, no matter how many such Acts they pass, it will serve no benefit and be ineffective,” he said.

Asked if targeting Hun Sen and top Cambodian officials would make US-Cambodia relations tense, Eysan said: “The Act has not been approved and is just an initiative of a few in the House of Representatives.

“The US and Cambodian governments have strong relations and a few politicians are not about to ruin that.”

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