Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday for his “understanding and patience” in not seeking regime change in the autocratic Southeast Asian nation, saying Cambodia needs stability in the country in order to develop.
“As [we are] a very young democracy you probably can appreciate our struggle to find full peace, a condition sine qua non before we can rebuild our nation,” Hun Sen said.
“I appreciate your understanding and patience in that respect and I look forward to have our foreign affairs team work with yours to restore trust and confidence, and renew the bond of friendship between our two countries,” Hun Sen wrote.
Absent from Hun Sen’s letter, however, was any acknowledgement of Trump’s statement in a letter written earlier this month to the Cambodian prime minister that Cambodia must now enact political reforms.
Though the United States seeks a relationship with Cambodia based on mutual respect, “It is imperative for the future of our bilateral relationship that you put Cambodia back on the path of democratic governance,” Trump wrote in his letter to Hun Sen of Nov. 1.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, Cambodian Youth Network co-founder and vice president Sar Mory pointed to Hun Sen’s letter as a positive step in Cambodia’s relations with the U.S., but questioned the Cambodian prime minister’s commitment to democratic reforms.
Cambodia’s government must now rehabilitate the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was banned by the country’s Supreme Court in November 2017, and restore the opposition party’s political freedoms, Sar Mory said.
“Without any deep reform, I think it will be very difficult to restore the U.S. and Cambodia’s relationship,” he said.
Cambodian authorities arrested CNRP leader Kem Sokha in September 2017, and Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its elected officials from politics two months later for its alleged role in a plot to overthrow the government.
The moves were part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
'We are completely united'
Writing on Wednesday on his Facebook page from Paris, where he lives in self-imposed exile, CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy accused Hun Sen of maneuvering to weaken the party’s popularity by extending a deadline for Kem Sokha’s former party, the Human Rights Party, to seek full registration to compete in future elections.
“Our position is that Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are completely united, and I would like to tell Hun Sen that you can’t divide us from each other,” Sam Rainsy said. “We are not so stupid that we would split off from each other so that Hun Sen can win [a future election].”
Last week, Hun Sen waved off concerns over pressure from the European Union to improve the country's human rights record or risk losing its preferential trade status, saying that his government is prepared to pay additional taxes and make a profit even without the trade scheme.
The EU launched the process to strip Cambodia of its preferential trade terms following Kem Sokha’s arrest and the banning of the CNRP ahead of last year’s elections.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court meanwhile eased restrictions on Kem Sokha’s de facto house arrest earlier this month, although Hun Sen says he must still face treason charges, which could result in up to 30 years in prison.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.