A train attendant waits to check passengers at a deserted Beijing railway station on Friday evening, Feb 14, 2020. (NYT photo)
SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia: When Cambodia’s prime minister greeted passengers on a cruise ship amid a coronavirus scare on Valentine’s Day, there were hugs but no masks.
Not only did Prime Minister Hun Sen not wear one, assured that the ship was virus-free, his bodyguards ordered people who wore masks to take them off. The next day, the US ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, who brought his own family to greet the passengers streaming off the ship, also went maskless.
But after hundreds of passengers had disembarked, one later tested positive for the coronavirus. Now, health officials worry that Cambodia has opened its doors to the outbreak, and that the world may pay a price as passengers from the cruse ship Westerdam head home.
Before the Westerdam docked in Sihanoukville, fearful governments in other countries had turned the ship away at five ports of call even though the cruise operator, Holland America, assured officials that the ship’s passengers had been carefully screened.
Hun Sen’s decision to allow it entry appeared to be political. The region’s longest-serving ruler and a close ally of China, he is known for his survival skills.
The European Commission has decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the European Union’s Everything But Arms’ (EBA) trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The withdrawal of tariff preferences – and their replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs (most favoured nation MFN) – will affect selected garment and footwear products, and all travel goods and sugar. The withdrawal amounts to around one-fifth or €1 billion of Cambodia’s yearly exports to the EU. Unless the European Parliament and the Council object, this will take effect on 12 August 2020.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said: “The duration, scale and impact of Cambodia’s violations of the rights to political participation and to the freedoms of expression and association left the European Union with no other choice than to partially withdraw trade preferences. The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed, and free debate silenced. Today’s decision reflects our strong commitment to the Cambodian people, their rights, and the country’s sustainable development. For the trade preferences to be reinstated, the Cambodian authorities need to take the necessary measures.”
Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, said: “The European Union is committed to supporting Cambodia’s economic and social development through trade preferences. However, the respect for human rights is non-negotiable for us. We recognise the progress Cambodia has made, but serious concerns remain. Our aim is that the Cambodian authorities end human rights violations, and we will continue working with them in order to achieve that.”
The Commission’s decision addresses the human rights violations that triggered the procedure, while at the same time preserving the development objective of the EU trade scheme. It recognises the need to continue to support Cambodia’s economic development and diversification of its exports. All emerging industries in Cambodia will continue to enjoy duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market. High value-added garments and certain types of footwear will also continue to enjoy duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market.
The Commission’s decision follows in-depth engagement with the Cambodian government and stakeholders. In particular, during the last twelve months, the Commission and the European External Action Service conducted fact-finding missions to Cambodia and held several meetings with the Cambodian authorities at both technical and political levels.
With regard to civil and political rights, there has been no significant progress since the launch of the EBA withdrawal procedure in February 2019.
Decision due Wednesday could hurt nation’s $9.5bn apparel sector
SHAUN TURTON, Contributing writer, Nikkei Rewiew Japan
FEBRUARY 09, 2020 12:42 JST
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s human rights record has been criticized by the European Union, which is set to announce its decision Wednesday on removing trade privileges on some Cambodian exports. (Nikkei montage/Reuters)
PHNOM PENH — The European Union is set to withdraw trade privileges on some Cambodian exports after a yearlong review of the Southeast Asian nation’s widely-condemned human rights record, according to a document uploaded to the European Parliament’s website.
An official announcement on whether Cambodia will retain its duty-free access to the bloc under the Everything But Arms scheme for least developed countries is due on Wednesday.
But in what appears an inadvertent disclosure of the widely anticipated decision, details were included in a file uploaded to the European Parliament website.
The document — submitted by Italian MEP Danilo Oscar Lancini on behalf of the far-right Identity and Democracy Party — appeared to point to a partial suspension of Cambodia’s EBA privileges.
It did not specify which products had lost their duty-free access, but noted rice was not among them.
Lancini, who did not respond to a request for comment, is a member of the parliament’s Committee on International Trade.
His submission details proposed amendments to a resolution about the EU’s free trade agreement with Vietnam. It was in this context that Cambodia’s EBA status was referenced. Among the proposed revisions, which express concern about the impact of Vietnamese rice imports on the bloc’s market, the ID Party also pointed to Cambodia as a threat.
Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy told everyone that he would be back in Cambodia for independence day celebrations on November 9. He never made it, and is still in exile in Paris. Game, set and match to Prime Minister Hun Sen?
Some media reports at the time suggested that the failure to return could mean the end of Sam Rainsy’s political career. Other journalists have accused him of a lack of courage – though without suggesting any alternative opposition strategy.
Opinion polls are taboo in Cambodia, so it’s hard to measure how the attempted return affected the popularity of Sam Rainsy. If his Facebook page is any guide, the episode has not dimmed his standing in Cambodia. His recent video on Facebook in which he challenged Hun Sen to put him on trial for treason in place of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha has been viewed well over a million times: bear in mind that Cambodia has a population of 15 million and that many have no Internet access.
Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy were the joint founders of the CNRP in 2012. Sam Rainsy stood down as leader in 2017, hoping to avoid his list of convictions for various offences including libel being used as grounds to justify the dissolution of the party. So Hun Sen simply arrested Kem Sokha instead for treason, dissolved the CNRP, then cast aside to seek evidence for the charge. This “evidence” largely consists of an unremarkable speech made by Kem Sokha in Australia in 2013.
This is worth repeating if you are new to the story: an exiled dissident who has spent most of the last 15 years in Paris, who has accumulated a stack of in absentia libel convictions in Cambodia’s courts, and who demands to be put on trial for the treason charge now faced by his deputy as party leader until 2017, is not facing trial because . . . the government is too scared to do it.