Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn has renewed criticisms of the European Union for its “double standards” when it comes to dealing with the government.
Government officials have been on the offensive ever since the European Commission decided to review the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade scheme status over a series of perceived democratic setbacks, including the dissolution of the former opposition party and banning of its officials from politics for five years.
In January, Mr Sokhonn held meetings with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström during the Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting in Brussels in order to address the possible revocation of Cambodia’s EBA access.
Shortly after the meeting, Ms Malmström tweeted: “I reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The EU continues to keep the path of dialogue open.”
In front of ambassadors and diplomats who were attending an annual Foreign Affairs Ministry conference yesterday, Mr Sokhonn blasted the EU over the EBA review.
“They have double standards when it comes to Cambodia. We can say that they are behaving improperly,” Mr Sokhonn said, referring to the EU’s reluctance in taking action against other Asean countries for human rights and democratic setbacks.
He noted that the EU wants pluralism in the country, but pointed out that the EU is still willing to do business with one-party countries in the region.
“We discussed this issue because it could potentially affect the lives of 800,000 garment workers and two million other people in the sector,” Mr Sokhonn said. “Ms Malmström raised the issue of pluralism. She said Cambodia was no longer plural because the CNRP was dissolved.”
“At least one or two other countries have an EBA status, are they multi-party countries? Why don’t you pressure others– why keep other countries’ EBA status?” he said, noting that the EU also has a free trade agreement with these countries’ one-party government.
“They close their eyes to the government’s achievements, they want to see a perfect democracy in Cambodia,” he added. “One Asean country has also been threatened with sanctions, but nothing has been done. Why are they so quiet on some of our Asean members?
Mr Sokhonn noted that the government has paved the way for former CNRP officials to return to politics by amending the Law on Political Parties. However, the banned politicians must first make a request to Prime Minister Hun Sen or Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
“She [Ms Malmström] said ‘if you amend the law and allow them to return to politics, why make them file a request,’” Mr Sokhonn said.
He then appealed to ministry officials to uphold the Kingdom’s independence and sovereignty.
“We absolutely will not exchange our sovereignty for aid even if we are in trying times,” Mr Sokhonn said. “Please do not bow your heads to foreigners, because if we do, they will continue to do this to us.”
Ms Malmström said in a statement last month that the review of Cambodia’s EBA status by the European Commission does not mean that the status will be revoked.
“We now go into a monitoring and evaluation process in which we are ready to engage fully with the Cambodian authorities and work with them to find a way forward,” she said.
Ouch Borith, a secretary of state for the ministry, echoed Mr Sokhonn’s sentiment.
“Powerful countries and their allies are using tricks to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs and implement double standards on principles of democracy and human rights,” Mr Borith said. “They ignore the activities of some groups who incite to create racial discrimination, violate principles of democracy and create social upheaval through a colour revolution to overthrow an elected government.”
Representatives of the EU embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to a request for comment.