With the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia sitting on the stage and one of America’s most famous corporate icons as a backdrop, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen attacked the United States for what he said is a double standard.
In the opening ceremony for Coca-Cola’s new bottling plant in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Monday, Hun Sen attempted to paint the demonstrations in the U.S. after the election of GOP nominee Donald Trump as large and serious.
“You cannot say they were small. They were big,” Hun Sen said as he turned toward Ambassador William Heidt, who held up his hand in what is a near-universal gesture indicating tiny.
“When big demonstrations happened in the U.S. you said they were small, but when small demonstrations happened in Cambodia you said they were big,” Hun Sen added.
After Trump’s election, thousands of people took to the streets nationwide in what were largely peaceful protests, although there were outbursts of violence in Portland, Oakland and Indianapolis, according to media reports.
Police used pepper spray and “rubber baton rounds,” among other things, in efforts to disperse protesters in Portland. It’s unclear exactly how many people were arrested because of the protests, but estimates usually range in the low hundreds.
“Several thousand demonstrators were arrested. Is that what your excellency [Heidt] considers as small?” Hun Sen continued. “I’d like to challenge the U.S. embassy, which has claimed to be the father of democracy and mother of human rights, to swallow its own medicine.”
‘The United States has a long history of social protest’
A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh brushed aside Hun Sen’s criticisms.
“The United States has a long history of social protest, which is tolerated and protected by the authorities,” said embassy spokesman Jay R. Raman. “The media reports freely and openly on protests, and our judicial system is well equipped to handle any allegations of misconduct by either protesters or police.”
Protests related to the 2016 U.S. elections were modest in scale and largely peaceful, Raman added.
While he noted that some arrests have been reported, and these cases are being handled in accordance with legal procedures.
“We are not aware of any significant allegations of inappropriate police behavior or ‘crackdowns’ vis-à-vis the demonstrators,” he said.
Situated on a 12-hectares in a special economic zone on the outskirts of the city, the Coca-Cola plant is expected to generate approximately 300 jobs and help create an additional 1,800 indirect jobs from transportation and manufacturing to packaging supply, the company wrote in a blog post.
The plant is part of the $100 million Coca-Cola has committed to invest in Cambodia from 2015 to 2018, and is an example of the country’s willingness to do business with outsiders, Hun Sen said.
“Cambodia has an open door policy to draw foreign investment and we do not discriminate against any investors,” said Hun Sen, according to the Khmer Times.
Reported by Sothearin Yeang for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Writtein in English by Brooks Boliek.