What should be a “Win-Win” solution on EBA?

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Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn met with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in January to discuss Cambodia’s access to EBA. MOFA

At first the Everything But Arms (EBA) looks like a daunting matter, but upon closer inspection it is actually not that impactful. Although there are different perceptions about its relationship with the Cambodian economy, at this point nothing has come out of it yet, either positively or negatively. Things are still in process, because the math of EBA is just happening on paper and no official decision has been made regarding EBA.

If we look at what happened from the beginning until today, EBA has been a test on the ability of the Royal Government of Cambodia to withstand geopolitical pressure under the label of democracy and human rights. Preferential trade treatment mechanisms have been used for geopolitical purpose. Double standards have been exercised by trading powers.

Recently, leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, among others,  pledged to Prime Minister Hun Sen and announced a clear position to support the Royal Government of Cambodia to maintain EBA for Cambodia for the foreseeable future.

The European Commission recently announced that it submitted the preliminary report to the Royal Government of Cambodia for further review and response. This news also shows that EBA is still in the review process before the European Parliament convenes a new session. Some foreign media portray this as a worrying sign for Cambodia, but they really do not know the details of the negotiation behind the scene between the EU and Cambodia. EBA is a mutually beneficial program for both the EU and Cambodia. It provides the EU with cheap products and Cambodia with jobs.

In foreign policy, one should understand that foreign government agencies are not doing anything rash, nor is Cambodia yielding our positions as demanded and forgoing our independence and sovereignty for international assistance. The details behind the scenes, however, should not be exposed here.

However, the “EBA game” is just a political strategy that has been overplayed and requires an ending that helps “saving face for one another.” EBA is no longer worth the revival of the defunct opposition party because the leadership of the opposition has put in place a wrong policy which burns the value and the remaining popularity of the former CNRP to ashes. The plot of Sam Rainsy and his team to return on November 9 to carry out a violent regime change or a coup was a complete failure. Foreigners have not been blinded to the weakness of the opposition.

EBA is a tool in  bargaining for political concessions. We should consider the reasonableness of this politics when “foreign government agencies attempt to take away the food  baskets of two million workers” in exchange for what they say is a restoration of human rights and democracy. What are greater basic rights than the rights of people having jobs to support the livelihood of their family? As long as people have a better quality of life, they will get other rights.

It seems that the EBA trap has caught the opposition instead of whipping the government. Why? An experienced and intelligent Prime Minister Hun Sen knows the traps, the animals and animal trails.

After the collapse of the Pol Pot genocidal regime over 40 years ago, Cambodia experienced geopolitical oppression and the resulting political turmoil. There were many dangerous traps which Cambodia has learnt and resolved with competency. Prime Minister Hun Sen has faced the Pol Pot genocide regime and its military organization, the coalition government (CGDK) and lately the fragile political opposition in exile. He successfully resolved each trap well.

The situation now is that the economic strength of Cambodia is greater, the unity of the country is greater, so that foreign countries have much less weight to put EBA as a political pressure on Cambodia. Of course, Cambodia does not want to lose EBA in the interests of its workers and people. Foreigners also understand the political stance of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has repeatedly insisted that “no exchange of aid or favours for national sovereignty” is possible.

So how will EBA questions eventually evolve? We should all agree that EBA has become a political question that needs a “face saving” solution for all.

Politically, Cambodia is a small country. It needs some big countries to create mutually beneficial cooperation for the business community and the workers that EBA has been providing. As for the EU, it is also known that by cutting off EBA from Cambodia, there are certain impacts on European consumers, its image, and its political influence with Cambodia, which is an active member of ASEAN and other multilateral platforms.

We should also understand that there is no issue that cannot be solved, and that “there is always a deal behind the scenes.” From the promises of Britain, France, Germany, and so forth, we can conclude that the EU will make a balanced decision and will not adversely affect the garment factories and livelihood of workers. The forthcoming resolution will surely benefit both Cambodia and the EU.

Loosening of the line for Kem Sokha has provided a reason for the EU to make future decision. So ultimately, the conclusion of the EBA solution should  be mutually beneficial. Another fundamental concern in the future is that Cambodia will host the Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM). In that sense, the EU cannot damage Cambodia who is the ASEM host.

When it comes to EBA, we can’t ignore the role of the opposition that oppose their national interests blindly. They want the EBA to get suspended. Only when they perceived that their language is too hostile, they swapped the political message by saying that they planned to come to Cambodia to save the EBA. The EU is smarter than the opposition.

Prior to the 9th of November event in Cambodia, EBA had three factions including the EU, the opposition and the government of Cambodia. But from now on, EBA has only two negotiating sides: the EU and Cambodian government. Therefore, the situation is that the EU is now considering whether it should address the EBA issue in a manner acceptable to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. The EU is also aware that from now on, cooperation with Prime Minister Hun Sen is very beneficial.

In a true essence of politics, ultimately “smart people will work with smart people.” Now the opposition is too weak and Sam Rainsy  no longer has any influence on the international stage. The internal rift within the opposition has widened, so it is no longer useful for the EU to consider proposals from the opposition. Politics is “without love, only benefit.” The strong works with the strong. They can’t keep up with the weak. The conclusion now is clear. The EU continues to cooperate with a legitimate Cambodian government.

The Cambodian people really appreciate the wise leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the effort of his Government officials. Cambodia remains committed to continue to maintain its diplomatic channels with the EU and follow the vision of Prime Minister Hun Sen: “increasing external friends under the spirit of independence.” Cambodia is willing to continue cooperation with the EU in other areas, including good governance, culture, climate change, environment, education and agriculture.

Today, we can proudly say that Cambodia has flagged victory in every battle, and this victory is not only credited to the Royal Government of Cambodia that runs the country, but is shared with the Cambodian people especially the nearly 2 million workers and their families whose lives depend upon jobs provided in the factories.

As Cambodians, we proudly acknowledge that Prime Minister Hun Sen brings three more victories to the Cambodian people. Firstly, he defeated the ill-fated 9th of  November coup plot of the opposition.

Secondly, Prime Minister Hun Sen may be able to maintain EBA for the interest of both Cambodian people and EU citizens. Thirdly, Prime Minister Hun Sen-with a strong and visionary leadership – is bringing honors to Cambodia on regional and international levels through his wise, pragmatic, firm and clear foreign policies. Cambodia joins in all levels of foreign and domestic partnerships in all fields for the interest of Cambodian people and international partners. Cambodia will continue to strengthen an open, effective, inclusive and rules-based international order.

 

Huy Vannak is Secretary of States at Ministry of Interior and President of Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia.

 

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