Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday urged Cambodian students to be proud of their culture while adopting aspects of democracy that work for the Kingdom.
Mr Mahathir is in the Kingdom for three days, along with his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali and a delegation of 18 Malaysian officials. Mr Mahathir is expected to meet senior Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.
At Phnom Penh International Airport, he was welcomed by Othsman Hassan, Senior Minister in Charge of Special Missions.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Mahathir attended an open dialogue entitled “Balancing Relations with the Superpowers in the Context of Asean” at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, where hundreds of students gathered to hear him speak.
Dozens of students were also allowed to ask questions on various issues.
One student asked if a country like Cambodia should be democratised based on western standards or develop its own version of democracy based on current situations.
Mr Mahathir said Cambodia should adopt aspects of western democracy that are compatible with the Kingdom.
“The world is getting smaller, countries that used to be far away from us are now we very close to us, so we will be affected by what they do but at the same time they should be affected by what we do,” he said. “We should be proud of our own culture, our own background because our civilisations, especially Cambodian civilisations, are much older than many other Western civilisations.”
“Secondly, it is older than the American civilisation; America is a very young country compared to Cambodia,” he added. “You know here, you have such relics, like all the great temples here, these have been here long before there was any America at all.”
“So why are you not proud of your own culture? Your own ways of living, of thinking? Today, because of easy communication, you can see what is happening in other countries” he said. “Sometimes you copy them, which is okay if the things are good. I think the systems of government and democracy, for example, are very good – we should copy that.”
However, Mr Mahathir noted that some aspects of respecting human rights, such as the push for same-sex marriage, should not be adopted.
“When they decided that men should marry men, do we have to follow that? Women marrying women? Do you know what could happen if you adopt that culture? There will be only one generation,” he said. “We have critical minds.”
When asked about the influence of superpower countries, Mr Mahathir said Cambodia and Malaysia are alike in some regards. He said Cambodia is a relatively small country that cannot help from being affected.
“They say when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled – so we may be trampled. Not only Cambodia, but Malaysia too,” Mr Mahathir said, referring to China and the United States. “So, in order to avoid being trampled down by fighting elephants, we should come together so we can strengthen ourselves.”
“We cannot do much about them, but we can tell them the truth in an occasion when we can make our voices [heard] in the international forum,” he said.
Mr Mahathir noted that Cambodia can stand together with Asean to solve international issues regarding the struggle between two superpower countries.
“Superpower countries look after their own interests; they are not looking at our own interests, so we must stand together and confront them, and to civilise our countries,” he said.
Mr Mahathir said that before coming to Cambodia, he visited other Asean member states, including Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
“This is the first time I get to visit Cambodia, and I like to visit Cambodia because I know Cambodia very well. I have visited this country three times before and in many ways. Our relationship was very good and have encouraged Malaysian business people to come to Cambodia to help, to invest in the country, create jobs and develop the country – this is what we have done,” Mr Mahathir said.
Mr Mahathir also addressed various issues raised by the students, such as the South China Sea dispute, Asean affairs, Malaysian politics and the US-China trade war.
During his visit, Mr Mahathir is expected to preside over a signing ceremony of several documents and hold a joint press announcement with Mr Hun Sen today.
He will also pay a courtesy call to Senate president Say Chhum and National Assembly president Heng Samrin.
Mr Mahathir is scheduled to meet with the local Muslim community and attend a dinner with the Malaysian diaspora before ending his first day.
Today, Mr Mahathir and his wife will attend an official dinner hosted by Mr Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.
Ms Siti Hasmah is expected to visit the Cambodian Red Cross and have lunch with the Women’s Association of the Embassy of Malaysia in Cambodia.
Chhem Rethy, Minister Delegate Attached to Prime Minister Hun Sen, yesterday said he is thankful for Malaysian investors in the Kingdom.
Mr Rethy said Malaysia should help develop Cambodia’s science programmes.
Mr Hun Sen on Facebook yesterday welcomed Mr Mahathir.
“Cambodia welcomes Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,” he said. “The official visit of Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Cambodia will help contribute to the strengthening of good and deep relations […] between Cambodia and Malaysia.”