Australia must stop ‘sucking up’ to Cambodia’s ‘gangster regime’: MP

Australia must stop ‘sucking up’ to Cambodia’s ‘gangster regime’: MP

By Anthony Galloway and James Massola

December 4, 2019 — 2.52pm

Australian MPs from both major parties have united to condemn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the wake of the dictator’s political opponent being put on trial for widely criticised treason charges.

Liberal and Labor politicians have also sounded the alarm on Chinese influence in the south-east Asian nation, including a planned military build up in the beach town of Sihanoukville.

Labor MP Julian Hill and Liberal senator James Paterson.
Labor MP Julian Hill and Liberal senator James Paterson.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

A Cambodian court this week sent Opposition Leader Kem Sokha’s case to trial, after he was arrested in 2017 and his party banned ahead of an election last year that was condemned by the international community.

Monovithya Kem, the exiled daughter of Mr Sokha and herself a major opposition figure, said the Australian government could do much more to pressure the Cambodian government.

“Targeted individual sanctions should happen immediately and only be lifted the day that Cambodia holds free, fair elections,” she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The European Union last month gave a one-month deadline for Hun Sen to explain what he will do to address human rights violations, while the United States Congress is also considering how to respond.

Labor MP Julian Hill said the Cambodian Prime Minister was running a “gangster regime” and Australia needed to change its approach.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen's actions have attracted the ire of Australian MPs.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s actions have attracted the ire of Australian MPs.CREDIT:AP

“Putting the Opposition Leader on trial for treason? I mean seriously,” Mr Hill said.

“The Australian Government has to stop sucking up to Hun Sen and rethink our approach.

“It’s way past time that Australia consider tougher measures such as visa bans and asset freezes for senior members of this odious regime.”

Mr Hill said he would now push for a parliamentary inquiry into Cambodia through the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Liberal Senator James Paterson said the charges against Mr Sokha were further evidence that Cambodia was flouting democratic norms.

“Julian Hill and I are unlikely allies. We are from opposite ends of opposing political parties,” Senator Paterson said.

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Hun Sen Responds to Trump Letter, Ignores Call for Course Correction

Hun Sen Responds to Trump Letter, Ignores Call for Course Correction

28 November 2019

In a letter to Trump, Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.
In a letter to Trump, Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.

Hun Sen’s letter called for the creation of a working group with member from both countries, with the aim of discussing ways to improve bilateral relations.PHNOM PENH — 

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday responded to a letter sent by President Donald Trump last week by saying he was keen to improve bilateral relations and hoped to move past the “dark chapters” of their shared history.

The prime minister wrote his own letter, dated November 26, 2019, in response to a letter sent by President Trump and delivered by U.S. Ambassador W Patrick Murphy last week. In that letter, Trump said the U.S. was looking to restore bilateral relations and was not pushing for a regime change.

Hun Sen said he agreed with Trump that their bilateral relations had been through “ups and downs” and that the two countries should not be held back by their past issues.

“I am of the view that we should not become hostage of a few dark chapters of our own history,” Hun Sen writes in the letter. “There are so many other beautiful chapters that are worth nourishing for the greater good of both of our countries and people.”

The Cambodian government has routinely accused the United States of orchestrating an alleged color revolution to overthrow the government. It used this so-called revolution narrative to dissolve the opposition party in 2017, jail opposition leader Kem Sokha, and crackdown on NGOs and independent media organizations.

Hun Sen’s letter called for the creation of a working group with member from both countries, with the aim of discussing ways to improve bilateral relations.

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Cambodia: The Interpreter, Playing the long game against Hun Sen

Op-Ed: Cambodia: Playing
the long game
against Hun Sen

CHARLES DUNST

European Union pressure
is working, and revoking
trade preferences might
allow Cambodians to
escape dynastic rule.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Future of Asia Conference, Tokyo, 30 May 2019 (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Future of Asia Conference, Tokyo, 30 May 2019 (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images) Published 26 Nov 2019 12:30  


To the casual observer, it may appear that Cambodian strongman Hun Sen is letting up, undoing some recent repression. This month, Hun Sen released Kem Sokha, the founder and co-leader of the main opposition party, after more than two years of house arrest, days later also ordering the release of more than 70 opposition activists arrested for “plotting to overthrow the government”.

These moderate relaxations are a direct response to European Union pressure, despite ruling party rhetoric suggesting the opposite. Since February 2019, the EU, citing “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”, has been moving towards revoking Cambodia’s membership in the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, which allows the duty-free export of certain goods – textiles, footwear, and agricultural products – to Europe. The bloc will issue its final decision in February 2020. Cambodia, if removed, will experience what one analysis described as “a decline that could send the sector into free-fall and impact on the livelihoods of millions of Cambodians.” Meanwhile, the US Senate is considering a bill that would revoke Cambodia’s membership in Washington’s own preferential trade scheme.

Elders generally credit
Hun Sen with delivering
Cambodia from the
Khmer Rouge period,
but young people do
not feel as if they owe
him anything, instead
blaming him for the
state of the economy,
along with lagging
development and corruption.

Hun Sen is a skilled maneuverer, doing just enough over the years to satisfy the West, which in turn helps prop up Cambodia’s economy, imbuing him with some much-needed legitimacy. He has a long history of making short-term concessions, only to roll them back soon after, rather than implement any real change. This is perhaps best evidenced by his cynical treatment of Sokha, who despite being “free” is still banned from politics, and set to be put on trial for treason.

Western efforts have yet to bring about the peaceful, inclusive, and democratic Cambodia promised by the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. The US and Europe have struggled to counter Hun Sen effectively, instead seeking his cooperation on issues of mutual concern, hoping to keep Cambodia at least vaguely in the Western sphere of influence. But now, with Cambodia a codified one-party state deeply in China’s pocket – and Hun Sen lashing out against the EU – the West needs a new future-focused strategy, one that holds the Cambodian government accountable for human rights violations and other breaches. As a first step, Brussels and Washington should revoke their respective preferential trade statuses for Cambodia.

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Hun Sen learns how to fake democracy

OPINION

Hun Sen learns how to fake democracy

Surasak Glahan

SURASAK GLAHANCOLUMNIST

PUBLISHED : 14 NOV 2019 AT 04:01

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, right, and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen address a press conference together in Bangkok in December 2015 .  (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, right, and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen address a press conference together in Bangkok in December 2015 .  (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Cambodia may avoid trade sanctions from the EU and US if its government has learnt the art of faking a return to democracy and rule of law from Thailand, which has done its neighbour a huge favour by barring entry to its exiled opposition leaders.

In fact, Thailand is the only “democratic” country in the region that bowed to the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Indonesia and Malaysia ignored the demand not to let Cambodian dissidents land, even letting some enter and stay. But that does not seem to have made Thailand a bad guy in the eyes of the West.

“I also came to power through elections,” Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the 2014 coup-maker, boasted to locals during his recent trip to Ratchaburi province.

Without a doubt, his government must have delivered the same message to western nations, who have bought it — or perhaps faked their acceptance — out of relief that the political mess in Thailand seems back to tolerable levels.

That indicates Prime Minister Hun Sen could have softened his crackdown on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has been so ruthless and rigorous that the West has threatened penalties over the past few years.

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