Information is the new frontline for Cambodia’s diplomacy. Both the ruling and opposition parties have upped the ante in their public diplomacy by travelling to different countries, meeting international stakeholders and overseas Cambodians to explain political development in Cambodia from their own perspectives.
Hun Manet, the eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, made a working visit to Japan last week at the invitation of Japanese government. The visit was aimed to exchange views and promote mutual understanding between the two countries. It is part of the diplomatic effort in explaining to international friends the actual realities in Cambodia. The Cambodian delegates also met with both the Japanese executive and legislative branches.
Mr Manet met a number of key Japanese politicians, members of parliament, and bureaucrats. He had a special meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and had a working dialogue with Mr Abe’s advisor Kentaro Sonoura. Cambodia has requested support from Japan in the upcoming general election such as sending a delegation of Japanese election observers. Japan in turn has reciprocated and reiterated its support for Cambodia’s July 29 general election.
The signal is clear that Japan is standing with the Cambodian government to ensure that electoral democracy remains alive, is on track, and is progressing. Apparently, Japan will support the election outcomes with or without the participation of the opposition party.
Cambodia analyst Kong Chan Veasna wrote on his Facebook page that, “without the presence of the opposition party, without the presence of Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha and more than 100 other individuals who were legally banned from politics by the court, it doesn’t mean that Cambodia cannot organise a free and fair election. To conclude, Japan stands by Cambodia and supports [the general] election in Cambodia without the participation of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party or its leaders.”
Japan, which has earned trust from different political factions in Cambodia, is regarded as the most honest broker in breaking the political deadlock in the Kingdom. However, for political settlement to be realized it requires genuine political will and commitment from the parties in dispute.
The leaders of the opposition or resistance movement, especially Sam Rainsy, have claimed that their political party is the only champion of true democracy in Cambodia. But what does “true democracy” really mean? Mr Rainsy has called for an election boycott, which seriously violates democratic principles and the people’s right to vote. Clearly Mr Rainsy does not have a sincere political will to engage in a dialogue and negotiate in a civil, gentlemanly manner. His intentions and actions to delegitimize and destabilize the Cambodian government threaten the very foundations of a fledgling democracy in the Kingdom.
As it is, Cambodia’s international image has been tarnished by some media and civil society groups including the opposition or resistance movement led by some leaders of the defunct, outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The intention of the movement is to create chaos and encourage the development of a toxic political climate in the country. Sadly, the victims of such a selfish policy are the innocent Cambodian people – whom the opposition claims to serve.
The Cambodian government has tried to explain to the international community the country’s prevailing realities by issuing several policy papers. For instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has issued two policy papers called “To Tell the Truth” in English. The Council of Ministers has also issued a White Paper in Khmer language to educate the public on the threats of a colour revolution and the interference of external powers.
Information warfare is a new terrain for the Cambodian ruling elites as they have taken some steps to develop a holistic strategy to engage opinion leaders, online bloggers and media professionals. Cambodia needs to double its efforts to convince the international community that the upcoming election will be free and fair. However, the success depends on the quality and convincing power of Cambodian diplomats and spokespersons of the government.
A new generation of leadership is proving to be more liberal, flexible, open to diverse views, and engaged in the public domain. The legitimacy of the government to be formed after the July 29 election relies heavily on the mandate given to them by the people. There’s still a lot to be done in the country. The war against corruption must be real and effective, public services must be improved substantially, and job opportunities must generated. The new generation of leadership might provide some hope for concrete and robust reforms needed for Cambodia to move forward in a highly connected global economy.
Japan will continue to stand by the Cambodian people in maintaining peace and stability, nurturing democracy, and building strong foundations for socio-economic development. Cambodia-Japan strategic partnership is a special given and it embeds inter-generational friendship and partnership. The people of Cambodia will always remember the efforts and sincere support provided by Japan to the Kingdom for its nation-building process.
Strengthening close ties with Japan serves Cambodia’s two objectives. Firstly, it shows clearly that Cambodia is not a client or vassal state of China. Secondly, Japan helps strengthen electoral democracy in Cambodia, which in turn maintains the legitimacy of the government, particularly in the face of pressure exerted by the US and the European Union.