Cambodia has been the victim of geopolitics since the collapse of the Khmer Empire since the 15th century. Big neighbours, regional powers and global powers have interfered in Cambodian domestic politics for centuries.
After gaining independence from France in 1953, Cambodia was thriving to be neutral by becoming one of the co-founding members of the non-aligned movement in mid-1950s. Unfortunately, major powers forced Cambodia to take side.
Cambodia suffered substantially from the spillovers of the Vietnam War into its land. The US-backed South Vietnam kept intruding and violating Cambodian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which prompted Prince Norodom Sihanouk to offer his support to the North Vietnamese government to counterbalance the existential threat posed by the South Vietnamese regime.
The coup staged by General Lon Nol, with the support of the US, was the root cause of the civil war and Indochina war. The US should be held responsible for the atrocities and damage caused to Cambodia and her innocent people.
The US bombing on Cambodia’s eastern regions led to fast mobilisation of the Khmer Rouge armed forces. Rural farmers voluntarily joined the Khmer Rouge movement to fight against the US imperialism.
The Khmer Rouge led the country to year zero. About two million, or 25 percent of the total population, were killed or purged under the Khmer Rouge regime. After the liberalisation of the country in early January 1979, Cambodia was reborn. Cambodians struggled to survive and reconstruct the war-torn country.
After about three decades of civil war, Cambodians from all walks of life have attached importance to the value of peace and stability.
The economic achievements that we have witnessed today are largely attributed to peace and stability that we have established in late 1990s. Peace and stability should not be taken granted. It is hard to earn. We need to cherish and nurture it.
Now, we are entering a new phase of political and socio-economic development. After more than two decades of high economic growth and inclusive development, the poverty rate has significantly reduced. Now only about 13 percent of Cambodian people is living below the poverty line.
The rising middle class and urbanisation have become the new driving force for democracy and continued development. With high aspirations, the young generation has embarked upon a new path towards building a more competitive, inclusive and innovative Cambodia.
However, the ongoing political tensions and uncertainties may prevent these aspirations from being realised, at least in the short term.
The international pressures and possible sanctions, which have been triggered by the opposition party and some foreign powers, are likely to pose challenges for Cambodia to realise its vision to become a middle-income country by 2030 and high-income in 2050. Economic sanctions will throw the poor and those on or near the poverty line into extreme poverty which is the main root cause for extremism, terrorism and increased violence in many parts of the world today.
Why is Cambodia targeted?
First, compared with its larger neighbours, Cambodia is a small country and does not have sufficient economic and strategic leverage on the international stage.
Democracy and human rights in the neighbourhood are even incomparable with Cambodia. The US and EU do not put pressure on those countries due to the fact that these countries matter more in terms of economic and strategic interests.
Democracy will prevail
The political tension in Cambodia is just a temporary politics. There is a slight correction on democracy for the common public good. Peace and stability cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be earned.
The Cambodian government has shown firm political will that a multi-party political system is the foundation of peace and prosperity in Cambodia. No force is powerful enough to kill the hard-earned democracy in Cambodia.
Democracy will prevail in Cambodia given Cambodian society has embraced democratic values and principles. The rising middle class and educated young people is the cornerstone of democracy.
Democratisation is an irreversible trend in Cambodia. The political system in Cambodia remains open and multi-party pluralism although the opposition party has been dissolved for its wrongdoings. It is clearly unwise to conclude that the dissolution of a political party that staged failed colour revolutions has set back democratic development in Cambodia
The 2018 election will go smoothly, with the participation of all political parties and national and international observers. Electoral democracy remains on the right track.
After having gone through three decades of civil war, Cambodian leadership has become resilient to international pressures. The government is well aware of keeping any situation under control.
The international pressures and sanctions from the US and Europe will not do much harm to Cambodian economy and social wellbeing. The pressures may prolong the government efforts in realising its development vision, but will not lead to regime change.
Only the Cambodian people can decide on who will lead the country. Foreign countries should not interfere in Cambodian people’s rights to choice. Cambodia only wants mutual respect and equal sovereignty.
Cambodia is committed to delivering concrete results from institutional reforms. Economic liberalisation and opening up are the main outward-looking strategy for the country’s economic development
Cambodia will continue to promote an open and liberal economic order in which all the countries will fairly share the fruits from international cooperation and regional integration.
Cambodia is actively involved in both bilateral and multilateral trading arrangements. Investment incentives and protection are available to further attract foreign direct investment. More efforts will be taken to attract more investments into Cambodia.
Social reforms will gain new momentum to further empower the people, especially women, to reap the benefits from economic growth. Social protection policy has been implemented to promote social inclusion and social resiliency.
Peace and public order will be strengthened. Political violence has been significantly reduced. Crime rates have dropped while many social indicators have substantially improved.
Suos Yara is a Member of Parliament of the National Assembly of Cambodia.