Chinese Loans to Cambodia Spark Sharp Words Between Government, Opposition

Xi Jinping visit reinforces Beijing support for Hun Sen, but government critics say Cambodians pay a high price for Chinese largesse.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) shakes hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, Oct. 13, 2016.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Cambodia that wrapped up on Friday brought millions of dollars in soft loans and debt forgiveness for Phnom Penh, but triggered a fresh war of words between the ruling party and an opposition wary of Beijing's largesse.

Xi's two-day visit to a country that has been the strongest Southeast Asian supporter of Chinese policies in the disputed South China Sea produced 31 economic agreements covering at least $60 million in new loans and forgivess of $90 million in Cambodian debts to China from 2015.

Sam Rainsy, exiled leader of the opposition Cambodia National Renewal Party, told RFA'S Khmer Service in Thursday he was worried about  the "enormous money" the government was borrowing from China.

"Hun Sen's government is borrowing enormous money from China,  billions of dollars.  I am very concerned about this loan because [we] do not know what the loans have been used for, and there is no monitoring," he told an RFA live televsion show.

"It is the Cambodian people who will have this burden, not the Hun Sen government," he added.

Sok Eysan, spokesman for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, dismissed the complaints the noise of a "mad dog."

"This opposition leader always does things for his power and ambition only, without considering national interests and society," Sok Eysan told RFA.

"The opposition leaders are all incitement ring-leaders.  Their acts are to defame the current legitimate government while praising themselves.  Now, his words sound just like a mad dog, biting anything in its way," the spokesman added.

Opposition politicians and human rights groups, who have been the target of an intensify crackdown by Hun Sen's government that has seen politicians and activists beaten or jailed, have been concerned about Cambodia's increasingly cozy ties with authoritarian China.

They say Chinese funding and political support help make Hun Sen immune to human rights criticism from Western countries that have been traditional aid donors.

In a speech in June after his crackdown was criticized by the European Union and the United Nations, Hun Sen slammed his critics and praised China.

"China also has never threatened us like this. Cambodia has its own political independence," he said. "China also never advised Cambodia to do this and that.”

Development researcher Meas Ny told RFA, however, that Cambodians often pay a steep price for money from China.

"With the new economic reforms in Cambodia through development projects, we only see endless problems, especially crises resulting from land disputes where there are Chinese projects," he said.

"We travel to various areas with problems, especially the areas where there is investment from China," said Meas Ny.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.