Cambodia-Australia ties should be handled with care

Chan Kunthiny / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Asean is Australia’s third largest trading partner and the relationship is mutually beneficial. Reuters

Bilateral relations between Cambodia and Australia are longstanding and mutually beneficial. And so is the relationship between Australia and Asean. Reckless moves by Canberra could undermine these relations in the long run, argues Chan Kunthiny.

Cambodia’s domestic politics have been put under the microscope by some Australian lawmakers.

An Australian MP has eloquently compared the dissolution of CNRP in Cambodia to the dissolution of Green Party or Labor Party in Australia, a situation equal to the end of democracy. In the definition of democracy, such reasoning is valid. However, such argument fails to acknowledge the facts related to the crimes committed by the CNRP.

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Using the Australian MP’s way of comparison, did they know that those CNRP parliamentarians published a fake map to make the public believe that New Zealand had ceded land to Australia? Did they know that CNRP parliamentarians are like the Indonesian parliamentarians who colluded with Australia to declare independence in West Papua?

This is how serious CNRP’s crimes are in the Australian context.

The dissolution of CNRP has nothing to do with democracy. Cambodian opposition politicians are far from being democratic with the least respect to the rule of law. None of them are shiny examples of examplary parliamentarians in the eyes of the public.

Living in a democratic society that is internationally recognised for its deep-rooted respect and tolerance of ethnic diversity, Australian MPs should know who they are supporting within Cambodian’s complex domestic politics.

They should know the fact that they are associating themselves with one of the most racist and xenophobic political groups in the region.

No one can deny that CNRP had garnered their support through discontent over the shortcoming of the current government. At the same time, no one can deny either that their political power also stems from their ultranationalist, racist and xenophobic propaganda against the Vietnamese.

At the grassroots level, they always fan hatred against the ethnic Vietnamese and more often than not promote the ultranationalist message to contest the territorial claim, in defiance of the international norm of “uti possidetis” of Kampuchea Krom or Lower Cambodia, which is now southern Vietnam after the French colonists gave the territory to the Vietnamese.

Their strong ultranationalist slogan is based on accusations that the current Cambodian government compromised Cambodian territory to the Vietnamese some kilometres away from the original border. Were there any Australian MPs who supported Sam Rainsy when he orchestrated an incident to uproot markers on the border with Vietnam? Maybe Victorian MP Hong Lim would know best. MP Hong Lim should be scrutinised on whether he has any anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in his political messages to his Cambodian followers.

MP Hong Lim has recently likened Prime Minister Hun Sen to Pol Pot. In a similar vein, Kem Sokha said that the notorious Toul Sleng prison of the genocidal regime was a fabrication of Vietnam to cover their invasion of Cambodia. How could parliamentarians, national or international, make such irresponsible remarks related to the most atrocious genocidal regime of Pol Pot? One cannot help but to question their common sense to comprehend the gravity of the crime committed by Pol Pot.

The anti-government Cambodian diaspora worldwide has a strong racist grudge against the Vietnamese, and this forms the rationale of their support for the CNRP. The international community does not know this as CNRP propaganda messages are only broadcast in Khmer without any English translation.

The incidents in the 1990s that led to the killing of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia was linked closely to the racist and xenophobic fervour created by Sam Rainsy and the opposition group. CNRP leaders and followers also hatched the rumor saying that Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son, is the offspring of one of the Vietnamese leaders. CNRP calls pro-government groups as people with “Vietnamese head but Khmer body” or “Kbal Youn Kloun Khmer” – which is derogatory in Khmer language.

This is how racist and xenophobic the CNRP is. Are there any political parties in the region as racist and xenophobic as them?

Now, let us look at the regional context. In the middle of next month, Australia will host the Asean-Australia Special Summit, marking the first time Australia has hosted a summit with the regional grouping. Asean is Australia’s third largest trading partner. According to an Australian government media release, “The summit is an historic and unprecedented opportunity to strengthen Australia’s strategic partnership with Asean and deliver tangible economic and security benefits to Australia.”

Cambodia also has very good working relations with Australia and is a staunch supporter of Asean-Australia dialogue relations.

Before the summit, however, some Australian and Cambodian politicians have tried to sabotage the Cambodian prime minister’s attendance by raising the possibility of citing the Kingdom’s domestic issues in the summit statement. They are also supporting anti-Hun Sen demonstrations. This took a nasty turn when Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to boycott this historic summit.

In democratic country like Australia, it is true that it cannot forbid demonstrations against the Cambodian prime minister. In the same token, the Australian government also cannot forbid pro-Hun Sen demonstrations either. But the Australian authorities do have a duty of care to prevent violent clashes to ensure the safety of international delegates, public order and Australia’s standing as a respectful and courteous host.

Prime Minister Hun Sen can boycott the meeting just like de-facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who skips various summits due to fear of criticism on the country’s handling of the Rohingya issue.

But putting Hun Sen in the same context as Aung San Suu Kyi is morally incorrect. Is Cambodia worse off than Myanmar at the moment? Are there any atrocities taking place in Cambodia like the current Rohingya crisis? Is there a repetition of the Pol Pot regime that should deserve international debate on whether or not to intervene in Cambodia? Is Cambodia delaying the holding of a general election like the military junta in Thailand? Did Cambodia commit any extrajudicial killings in its nationwide action against drug crime last year? To put it bluntly, did it kill drug dealers like in Thailand and the Philippines?

Bilateral relations between Cambodia and Australia are longstanding and mutually beneficial. And so is Australia-Asean relations. Reckless moves by Australia could undermine these relations in the long run. It is just not worth for Canberra to lose the friendship of its longtime ally and supporter within Asean.

The ball is in Australia’s court. If there is any suggestion to make, it is advisable that Australia looks to India’s recent holding of its summit with Asean and see how New Delhi pulled it off without any diplomatic incident. Indeed, India is no less democratic than Australia claims to be.

Chan Kunthiny is a Cambodian analyst based in Phnom Penh.

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