Suspected Vietnamese netizens target Cambodia’s Hun Sen on TikTok

The former prime minister received large numbers of derogatory comments in Vietnamese on social media.
By RFA Staff
Suspected Vietnamese netizens target Cambodia’s Hun Sen on TikTok Hun Sen delivered a special message to the government on the Funan Techo canal on May 16, 2024.
Cambodia government

Updated May 20, 2024, 04:48 a.m. ET.

Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister on Monday summoned Vietnamese Ambassador Nguyen Huy Tang to discuss offensive comments under former Prime Minister Hun Sen's TikTok video posts, said the Cambodian ministry of information.

Sok Chenda Sophea, who is also Cambodia's foreign minister, said the comments "caused bad feelings among the royal government and the people of Cambodia" and asked for Vietnam's cooperation to determine the identity of the people behind them.

The move comes after Hun Sen asked authorities to cooperate with Vietnam to track down people who left disrespectful comments in Vietnamese on his TikTok videos.

"I was really surprised when I saw the comments to the TikTok [clips] that I posted,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

In screenshots attached to his Facebook post, the comments in Vietnamese read: “Vietnam sacrificed its blood for peace in Cambodia,” and “Don’t forget tens of thousands of Vietnamese volunteers who were killed in Cambodia.”

The former prime minister, who is now president of the Senate and retains much power in Cambodia, was also called “ungrateful,” “China’s puppet,” and a “traitor.”

Screenshot of comments on Hun Sen’s TikTok video clip.

Hun Sen said he suspected the reason for the attacks was probably the Funan Techo canal project that was proposed and approved when he was head of government. 

The canal, connecting Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh with  its Gulf of Thailand coast via a tributary of the Mekong River, is to be developed by a Chinese company at a cost of US$1.7 billion.

The project has raised concerns in Vietnam as its Mekong River delta, home to 17.4 million people, is downstream and could be severely affected. 

Hun Sen, who sees the project as one of his great legacies, said last month that Cambodia would not negotiate with Vietnam over the canal. On May 16, he urged the government to begin construction as soon as possible.

Hun Sen rose to power in a government installed by Vietnam after its forces invaded in late 1978 and quickly ousted the Khmer Rouge regime. Vietnamese forces remained in Cambodia for the next decade battling Khmer Rouge guerrillas based in sanctuaries on the Thai border.

Cambodia and Vietnam have been staunch allies for decades but in recent years Cambodia has leaned more towards China, which has become Cambodia’s main source of investment. Cambodia has in turn supported China diplomatically, most notably in 2016, when Cambodia blocked a bid by Southeast Asian leaders to take a united stand on what many in the region see as China’s unjust territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Avid influencer

Hun Sen called for an inquiry into the disparaging social media comments.

“I'm not sure who these Vietnamese are,” he wrote, “I request the Cambodian authorities to cooperate with the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the people who came to insult me.”

Vietnam has a force of state-sanctioned “public opinion shapers” on the internet, who usually target domestic dissent. Its military and police both  run cyber warfare units to counter criticism of the Hanoi government and the ruling Communist Party.

Hun Sen, however, said that he did not accuse the Vietnamese leadership of “using such people to insult me.”

There has not been any reaction from the Vietnamese government to his comments.

This is not the first time the Cambodian leader has been targeted in internet posts believed to have originated in Vietnam. In 2016-2017, he received thousands of offensive comments on Facebook and had to ask Vietnam’s party general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, to intervene to stop them.

Facebook is the most popular social media platform in both Vietnam and Cambodia but TikTok’s popularity has been growing fast, especially among young people. There are nearly 50 million TikTokers in Vietnam and 7.1 million in Cambodia.

Hun Sen is an avid social media user with 14 million followers on Facebook and 925,000 on TikTok.

Edited by Mike Firn.

Updated to add comment from Cambodia's deputy prime minister.



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