March 22, 2018

Embracing China, Facebook and himself, Cambodia's Hun Sen digs in

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he plans to stay in power for another decade or two.PHOTO: AFP

PUBLISHED MAR 18, 2018, 3:02 PM SGT

STUNG TRANG, Cambodia (NYTIMES) - As the sun rose over the murk of the Mekong River, the man who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, Prime Minister Hun Sen, clasped hands with the Chinese ambassador and beamed.

"The Chinese leaders respect me highly and treat me as an equal," Mr Hun Sen said, during the groundbreaking of a US$57 million (S$75 million) Chinese-funded bridge in the district of Stung Trang last month (February).

"Let me ask those of you who have accused me of being too close to China," he added. "What have you offered me besides cursing and disciplining me and threatening to put sanctions on me?"

For a quarter century, the West helped rebuild Cambodia while it was still reeling from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The United States and Europe tied billions of dollars in aid to an effort to transform Cambodia into a liberal democracy.

That campaign has failed. Instead, Cambodia has come to stand as the highest-water mark for China's influence in South-east Asia and as the stage for Mr Hun Sen's evolution into one of Asia's most unstinting autocrats.

Mr Hun Sen, 65, likes to be known as Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander, and has said he plans to stay in power for another decade or two. He is making sure of it: In recent months, his government has dissolved Cambodia's main opposition party ahead of general elections set for July, jailed dozens of critics and shuttered dissenting news media outlets.

In Senate elections late last month, his Cambodian People's Party swept all seats on offer.

Mr Hun Sen's enduring grip on power has been supported by China's largess, which comes without the West's admonishments to protect human rights and democratic institutions.

"Having alienated Western partners, Hun Sen will rely on Beijing's political and financial support, drawing Cambodia closer to China as a result," concluded a worldwide threat assessment by the US intelligence community.

Mr Hun Sen's authoritarian descent reflects an overall retreat of democracy across South-east Asia. There is also a perception across the region that the United States under President Donald Trump has withdrawn its influence, leaving China free to exercise its clout.

While some countries, like Vietnam, nurse historic grievances with China and have tried to resist its economic magnetism, others, like Laos and Cambodia, seem on the path towards becoming client states of Beijing.

"Cambodia is in danger of returning to being a totalitarian state," said Cambodia's former opposition lawmaker Mao Monyvann. "And the worst thing is that Hun Sen looked around and he saw that China supported him and that America was not punishing other Asian countries for doing similar things, so he just went ahead with his crackdown."

China is Cambodia's largest benefactor, providing the country with nearly one-third of its foreign investment last year. Beijing has gifted Cambodia 100 tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

"In terms of funding for infrastructure, we welcome any country that's willing," said Mr Sun Chanthol, Cambodia's Minister for Public Works and Transport. "But so far, only the Chinese are responding so generously."

The United States and other Western countries, meanwhile, are retreating further.

On Feb 27, the Trump administration announced it was cutting aid to Cambodia because the country's Senate elections "failed to represent the genuine will of the Cambodian people".

And Germany last month placed visa restrictions on members of the Cambodian government, including on Mr Hun Sen.

Mr Hun Sen has long condemned Western powers for treating Cambodians as pawns in a geopolitical game. He has a point: The French colonised Cambodia, and the Americans bombed the countryside. A state-building experiment by the United Nations spread graft.

But his government's accusations have grown increasingly outlandish.

Dissenting voices have been branded as Western agents. Mr Kem Sokha, the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was detained in September and charged with treason, accused of plotting a US-funded regime change. He denies the charges.

"The US wants to break up Cambodia and destroy our country," said government spokesman Phay Siphan. "The US is paranoid and wants the Cambodian government to be weak so it can come back to this region and chase China away."

During his 33 years leading Cambodia, Mr Hun Sen has displayed a faultless sense of when to switch sides.

The son of farmers became a fighter for the Khmer Rouge, whose murderous rule from 1975 to 1979 resulted in the deaths of about a fifth of the national population.

"Yes, we were Khmer Rouge soldiers," said Mr Hun Sen's cousin Dy Bit. "There was nothing else to do."

Mr Dy Bit's sister and neighbour were beaten to death by the radical communists.

"Some us killed and some of us were killed," he said.

But in 1977, Mr Hun Sen defected to neighbouring Vietnam. When Vietnamese troops ejected the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh two years later, Mr Hun Sen, at 26, returned as the world's youngest foreign minister.

By the time the United Nations arrived in 1992 to administer a transitional authority, Mr Hun Sen was firmly in control of Cambodia. He later sidelined his co-prime minister, whose party had won elections in 1993.

Throughout his political reinventions, perhaps only Mr Hun Sen's antipathy towards the United States has remained unchanged.

He grew up in a wooden house near the Mekong, in a province that was heavily bombed by the Americans as the Vietnam War spilled across the border.

While he led the puppet administration installed by the Vietnamese, Mr Hun Sen chafed at the fact that the United States refused to recognise his government. Instead, Washington, still smarting over its retreat from Vietnam, pushed for Cambodia to be represented at the United Nations by the Khmer Rouge, which still held a corner of Cambodia.

Mr Hun Sen has never been invited to the White House. But he has travelled to Beijing numerous times, and in 2016, President Xi Jinping of China visited Cambodia.

Mr Hun Sen has, however, borrowed from Mr Trump's playbook.

At the Mekong bridge ceremony, Mr Hun Sen pointed out New York Times journalists in the crowd and noted that the newspaper had been given "fake news" awards by Mr Trump. He then warned that if The Times' report was not suitably positive, "the Cambodian people will remember your faces".

Other times, he has been more direct. In a speech March 3, Mr Hun Sen called Mr William Heidt, the US ambassador to Cambodia, a "liar ambassador".

Mr Hun Sen has proved adept at using social media. The public relations firm Burson-Marsteller says that his interactions on Facebook make him the third-most engaged leader in the world, although the opposition accuses Mr Hun Sen of buying his "likes" through click farms.

On a cool February morning, Mr Hun Sen addressed 10,000 young garment workers on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The speech was broadcast live on Facebook, and a stream of hearts and thumbs up floated across his page.

After the hourlong talk, Mr Hun Sen posed for photos with members of the crowd. Every worker was given the equivalent of US$5 in cash in an envelope that specified the money was a gift from Mr Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.

Yet his Cambodian People's Party is not assured of the youth vote in the election scheduled for July 29. In the last election, in 2013, the opposition, buoyed by support from young Cambodians, threatened to unseat the ruling party.

Mr Hun Sen's campaign strategy has been to position his government as the sole guarantor of peace in Cambodia.

"Without us, there would still be war, and you wouldn't have the choice to work in factories," he told the garment workers.

9 comments:

Justice said...

Chinese is using Cambodia as a station, ready to attack Vietnamese in the near future. This is part of communists planned for the last 100 years also.

tk said...

Hun Sen followed the footstep of Sihanouk. The end result would be disastrous for him, his family, Cambodia as a whole. Just look at Sihanouk as an example. What China did was to take over all Cambodia resources and use Hun Sen to counter America and the West's influence.

phuc.dung.long said...

Justice and tk are correct.

But this dog face and "its" family are too greedy, power hungry and too much of a horny donkey to understand that history will repeat itself.

Cambodia is an embarrassment to the world. and this barking hyhenia is the face of cambodia...

Kim Ea said...

Remembered how many decades that Khmer blindly embraced Sihanouk policy even they know that his policy was treasonous to the nation ? Khmer of to day have hopeless that Khmer CPP supporters learn any mistake from the past ,For Khmer nation and people money,partisanship and power trump over nationalism .We all known quite well that this administration was not faithful with their people from the beginning , but money free and power without working hard blindside them to followed unchecked polity . Every Khmer leaders declare independent or neutral policy to fake their citizen supporters only ,the reality their incompetency forced them to joint corrugate influence of foreign power as lead role . How many regime of Khmer can stand alone or stayed independent ? neutral ? none allied with foreign polity ?

Unknown said...

Wow ha ha ha the Chinese respect Hun Sen highly and treat him as equal oh man please look if China so good why Taiwan won't joint as one country and look when china go in to other country They will destroy and take all the nation treasure of that country.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well...a sucker every minute and AH KOOK hardcore-communist wild buffalo Hun Cent Vietcong slave dictator is one of them!

Hemondno Viata said...

បរទេសកម្ពុជាក្រោមអំណាចគ្រប់គ្រងរបស់លោក ហ៊ុន សែន បានធ្វើឲ្យបាត់បង់អស់អ្វីៗដែលកូនចៅខ្មែររំពឹងទុក ។ រដ្ឋអំណាចនេះនៅកាន់តែយូរ ទឹកដីខ្មែរ វប្បធម៌ខ្មែរ រាស្ត្រខ្មែរកាន់តែបាត់បង់និងទន់ខ្សោយគ្រប់ផ្នែកវិស័យ ។ តើជាតិណាដែលទទួលបានប្រយោជន៍ច្រើនជាងគេ រវាងយួននិងចិន? តាំងពីសង្រ្គាមវៀតណាមមកទល់ថ្ងៃនេះ ប្រទេសយួនទទួលបានចំណេញពីប្រទេសយើងគ្រប់វិស័យទាំងអស់ ហើយថែមទាំងបានប្រើដៃរបស់ខ្លួនសម្លាប់ខ្មែរយ៉ាងពេញទំហឹង ក្នុងរបបខ្មែរក្រហម៥ឆ្នាំ៨ខែជាងនោះ ។ សាសន៍នេះបានរៀបំចាក់បណ្តោយក្នុងអំពើព្រៃផ្សៃខ្មែរក្រហមបានយ៉ាងស្អាតហើយស្ទើតែពុំឮសូរទៀតផង ។ ចំណែកចិនវិញបានកម្រៃខ្លះក្នុងរយៈសម័យសង្គ្រាមវៀតណាម ក្រៅតែពីបក្សសម្ព័ន្ធកុម្មុយនិស្តិ ។ តែចិនទទួលបានប្រយោជន៍ខ្ពស់ក្រោមគោលនយោបាយរបស់លោកហ៊ុនសែនតរៀងមក ។ តើចិននៅគេនៅតែមានកំណើនខាងផ្នែកនយោបានឬទេទៅពេលអនាគត់? ចម្លើយខ្ញុំផ្ទាល់គឺពិតប្រាកដណាស់ ផ្អែកទៅលើដីសម្បទានសេដ្ឋកិច្ចនៅកោះកុង និការប្រឹងប្រែងជួយពង្រឹងសេដ្ឋកិច្ចក្នុងប្រទេសអាសៀន និងបង្កើនប្លក់សម្ព័ន្ថភាពរបស់ខ្លួននៅក្នុងតំបន់ ។ តែវាជាគារភ័យព្រួយផងដែរសម្រាប់ពលរដ្ឋរសនៅក្នុងតំបន់នេះទាំងមូល ។

sam said...


In a blink of an eye Hun Sen felicitated 70,000 Vietnamese to stay just because Vietnam said that they had no home in Vietnam.
Imagine how long did the police take to round them up for deportation but the end result was the government took order from Vietnam and released them with proper papers.

http://kimedia.blogspot.com/2018/02/government-pledges-documentation-for.html

http://kimedia.blogspot.com/2017/10/vietnam-calls-on-cambodia-to-protect.html

Chun Sokha said...

Hun Sen is too dumb to understand that China has been using him and Cambodia to benefit itself more and more every year .