Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Language: Khmer, English
Source: A24 Agency
Restrictions: A24 Agency Subscribers
Phay Siphan, Cambodia’s Royal Government Spokesperson, said Phnom Penh’s foreign policy is not influenced by other countries and emphasized that Cambodia is a “sovereign” state, refuting accusations that Phnom Penh is influenced by a foreign country. The Cambodian political elite have been trying to balance the country’s foreign relations after Phnom Penh has been seen as being tilted towards China. Em Sovannara, who is a professor of politics and a political analyst, said that Phnom Penh is keen on creating an equilibrium between China on the one hand and the US and Europe on the other, as it tiptoes in its dealings with its allies to try not to look as if taking sides, especially after Cambodia was accused of passing Beijing’s agenda through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He added that Cambodia should play it smart and stay impartial so that it could continue benefiting from its relations with other countries.
– (Soundbite): H.E. Phay Siphan – Royal Government Spokesperson:
“Cambodia is a sovereign state, we don’t take orders from other countries, especially when it comes to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is a community. It does not belong to Cambodia; it is a ten-country association. The fact that China gives us money does not matter; it is a loan, nothing else. It is a loan with a low-interest rate that the Cambodian authorities have borrowed to develop the country. The government needs more money to build our country, so it does not matter who gives us low-interest-rate loans; we’ll take it. We ask everyone, as well as the United States if they would give us a loan with a low-interest rate; we would have accepted that. Loans are for construction and the development of the country. But it cannot change our foreign policy.”
– (Soundbite): Em Sovannara – a professor of politics and a political analyst:
“Why Cambodia leans towards China is because other countries do not value us. Frankly speaking, Cambodian politics came from a communist party. The Cambodian People’s Party “CPP” used to be called the Communist Party of Revolution, but then it changed to Cambodian People’s Party. So, the CPP seems to be more accepting of the political leadership style from the Eastern countries. It means Cambodia is more familiar with Eastern politics. And also because of the advantages for Cambodia from China, and if we lean towards America, there would not be any Chinese benefits and even if we go too much towards China, we would not have benefits coming from America. If we go with Russia, we would not reap benefits. So, if Cambodia is smart, we should stay in the middle and there will be more benefits.”
(Soundbite): H.E. Phay Siphan, Royal Government Spokesperson:
“For ASEAN, we [Cambodia] cannot decide [policy] by ourselves, it has to be a consensus of 10 or 9 ASEAN members for the time being for foreign policy as well as defense policy. Shaping foreign policy in ASEAN requires consensus to adopt what is called a COD [Code of Conduct], like a declaration on the South China sea; to solve the problem on that. Several neighboring countries that were involved in the sovereignty conflict, as well as a superpower that is against China, tried to force Cambodia to come out with a resolution. We cannot come up with a resolution, because ASEAN is not the international court of justice.”
(Soundbite): Em Sovannara, a professor of politics and political analyst:
“So, when Cambodia leans towards China Vietnam, as well as the US would be angry. However, Cambodia does it for the benefit of the country and I fully support that Cambodia leans towards China, but Cambodia should have one policy which is creating an equilibrium between China on one hand and the United States and Europe on the other.
“If Cambodia keeps doing what it has been doing now, the country would be faced with risks because America and Europe will say that Cambodia is leaning toward China. Although the Cambodian Foreign Policy, the Cambodian National Policy and Cambodian politicians have all declared themselves neutral; their political actions didn’t keep us neutral. For example, in 2017, Cambodia canceled the yearly joint military exercise with the US. They canceled the military exercises with Australia, but Cambodia kept its military exercises with China and this political attitude made the US and Europe think that Cambodia is leaning toward China.
“Another example is that in 2012 and 2014, the US-funded two new buildings at Ream naval base, but recently Cambodia didn’t inform the US before demolishing them, even though Cambodia has the right to demolish them. Then Cambodia built a new building sponsored by China so it makes the Western countries especially America see Cambodia as being biased toward China.”