Fri, Oct 13, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Hun Sen’s hardline government shows power of China’s cash

By Blake Schmidt  /  Bloomberg

As Beijing has spent more in Cambodia, Hun Sen’s government has become a reliable advocate for China’s foreign-policy goals. This has been most evident in meetings of the 10-member ASEAN, in which Cambodia has repeatedly watered down efforts to criticize China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“Hun Sen is Beijing’s wunderkind,” said Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at the University of New South Wales who also provides political analysis for companies doing business in Southeast Asia. “Chinese investments and businesses are in safe hands.”

China’s ambassador in Cambodia didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

China’s money also comes without any requirements to boost democratic institutions that are normally tied to aid money to Cambodia.

The two countries agreed last month to form a research group that would investigate the causes of “color revolutions,” referring to movements that used disputed elections to topple governments in the former Soviet Union and Middle East.

Hun Sen has spent more than 32 years in power, putting him alongside the world’s longest serving non-royal leaders including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Studies show that more Cambodians now get their news from Facebook and other Internet sites than television or radio, making it harder for the government to control information heading into the elections in July next year.

Hun Sen accelerated a campaign against the opposition last month with the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was accused of conspiring with the US to seize power.


US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt said the allegations lacked “a shred of serious or credible evidence” and joined the EU in calling for Kem Sokha’s release.

Tensions have gotten worse, with Hun Sen calling off a search for the bodies of US soldiers from the Vietnam War era.

In an Oct. 3 statement, US senators John McCain and Dick Durban denounced Hun Sen’s “brutal crackdown” and urged US President Donald Trump’s administration to put abusive Cambodian officials on a list that could bar them from entering the US.

Hun Sen’s government has been unapologetic, comparing its battle with the opposition to a boxing match or a cockfight — two popular forms of entertainment in Cambodia.

A spokesman previously likened Hun Sen’s crackdown on the media with Trump’s disdain for so-called “fake news.”

“If this were cockfighting, the loser would have already been killed and cooked for soup,” CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said with a grin.

For Mu Sochua, the risk of heading back to a Cambodian prison was enough to make her flee.

She spent seven days in jail in 2014 for her role in protests, and this time opted to follow dozens of her colleagues into exile.

“Must go on,” she said via Whatsapp when asked about her plans. “I’m using my voice from outside.”

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