A high-ranking Chinese official has chastised the United States and the European Union for calling on Cambodia to improve human rights and democracy in the Kingdom in order for it to maintain its preferential trade status.
The EU and US are demanding the government restore democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the wake of the former opposition CNRP being dissolved and press and civil society freedoms cracked down upon.
The EU in February launched a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement to analyse whether Cambodia should lose its Everything-but-arms trade status.
Meanwhile, congressmen in the US have introduced the Cambodian Trade Act in order to request the administration of President Donald Trump to review the Kingdom’s Generalized System of Preferences status.
Speaking to journalists from Belt and Road countries in Beijing on Monday, Wang Tianxiang, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Southeast Asia Affairs division, said the EU and the US should respect Cambodia.
“We believe that they should respect Cambodia as a sovereign state, [they] should respect the choice of the Cambodian people,” Mr Tianxiang said. “We have always opposed long arm restrictions of the United States and the western world [on] Asian countries, especially on their internal affairs.”
“We will continue to support the Cambodian government and its people to determine their own house,” he added. “We will still be supporting them within our own capacity and we will continue to support political decisions of the Cambodian government in resisting intimidation from the west.”
Mr Tianxiang noted that Chinese assistance is “unconditional” and that China does not interfere with the internal affairs of other countries.
“For China, whether it’s cooperation or help, [ours] are unconditional. It is not like many western countries,” Mr Tianxiang said. “When they give us assistance, they ask for something in return. They will ask you to be more democratic, to be more open, to respect human rights and release all [political] opponents.”
“But China has a philosophy,” he added. “We believe that we should let people decide on their own.”
The EU market now accounts for about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports. Between 2011 and 2016 exports to the EU rose by 227 percent, reaching $5.77 billion in value in 2017 alone.
Kao Kim Hourn, delegate minister attached to the prime minister, said during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Wang Huning, member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party, said Cambodia can rely on China in order to mitigate the impact of the EBA withdrawal.
“Wang Huning told Samdech Techo Hun Sen that China has studied the impact of the withdrawal of the EBA on Cambodia,” Mr Kim Hourn said. “It found that the impact would not be serious. China will find ways to help Cambodia.”
Mr Hun Sen in March addressed the US and EU and highlighted the differences between eastern and western values as “you eat bread and I eat rice”.
“Your concern is not in line with us, neither does it require to be mentioned in Cambodian laws,” he said. “Cambodia has its own laws, different from other countries. You recognise this for other countries, why don’t you recognise this for Cambodia?”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said China’s assurances could be credible.
“First, if they get its companies to employ as many Cambodian workers laid off following the reduction of exports to EU and US markets,” Mr Mong Hay said. “Second, if they help Cambodia to substantially lower the costs of production and improve the quality of experts, these exports would be more competitive than ever before.”
“Third, if they get their companies to massively invest in labour-intensive transformation industry and open its market wide for new Cambodian-produced goods,” he added.