The government yesterday shrugged off efforts by Donald Trump’s administration to punish it over a clampdown on democracy and human rights, which it says is turning the kingdom into a one-party state under Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The State Department said on Wednesday it would bar Cambodian officials deemed to have been “undermining democracy” from entry to the US.
That came after Cambodia’s Supreme Court last month dissolved the opposition CNRP and redistributed its seats to factions allied with the ruling CPP.
The dissolution followed the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha for treason.
Dozens of other opposition party members have fled the country.
The State Department said its move was a “direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions”.
Ties between the two nations have withered in recent months with Mr Hun Sen preferring Beijing’s no-questions-asked offer of loans and investment to Washington’s opprobrium on rights.
“If Cambodian people cannot go to the US, it is OK, it is not a problem,” government spokesman Sok Eysan said, shrugging off the State Department threats.
“If we can not join any meetings in the US, there are many other meetings outside the US that we can join.”
The State Department did not disclose which ruling party officials would be affected by the restrictions but said in certain instances, their relatives could be also be barred from entering the US.
Huy Vannak, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, called the move a “desperate measure” that unpicks President Trump’s “policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states”.
Chheang Vannarith, a Southeast Asia analyst based in Singapore and Cambodia, said the State Department move could be regarded as unfair treatment or a double standard against Cambodia.
“The explanation for this is that Cambodia does not matter much to the US and the European Union in terms of strategic and economic interests,” he said.
“There is nothing much to lose for the US and the EU to put sanctions on Cambodia.”
“The sanctions will further push Cambodia to build closer strategic alignment with China and Russia. Again Cambodia will become the victim of great power politics,” he added.