Having recently commemorated Cambodia’s national day of “anger” against an autarkic regime with a grisly re-enactment of the systematic violence that took place under the notorious Khmer Rouge regime, Prime Minister Hun Sen jetted off to Japan for the 25th International Conference on The Future of Asia, held in Tokyo on May 30-31. From the peaceful host nation, Hun Sen unleashed not just hatred but a “declaration of war,” not against another country but against his own countrymen.
Enraged by his use of the judiciary to outlaw a legitimate opposition party in November 2017, Cambodians greeted him when he arrived in Japan with placards reading, “Hun Sen is the killer in Cambodia.”
Having crushed Cambodia’s peace legacy and aspirations outlined in the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, Hun Sen should expect nothing less than to be labeled a “killer.” It’s a lesson for his successors, dictators-in-waiting – they don’t have to look into the “Future of Asia” to know how Cambodians will greet them should they carry on Hun Sen’s legacy.
In an interview with a Japanese journalist, Hun Sen had the temerity to declare: “I am waging war against a person [Sam Rainsy] who has claimed to have established a movement in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia to stage a war against me.”
If vilifying and terrorizing his victims on home soil with hate speech is not enough, then an international forum on Japanese soil was a perfect place to issue his declaration of war – illuminating the kind of agenda that Asia’s next “tiger” economy will bring to “The Future of Asia.”
And if only Hun Sen could use Japan as he “steers the wheel of the army,” as reported in the Japan Times, he would make sure any movement created on Japanese soil is “destroyed.” The good news is, Hun Sen’s Cambodia is being fed by Japan.
Contempt for Japan
That declaration of war was not mere rhetoric. Diplomatically, it expressed contempt for Japan, the host nation. Yet it was extraordinary that Japan, known for having a graceful, genteel and a respectable culture, would afford Hun Sen a platform to declare war on its soil.
With his opponent Sam Rainsy in exile in France when the declaration of war was made, it is imperative that the international community seek to redefine whether such a move amounted to a new form of transnational threat – if not international aggression.
While peace, security, sustainability and economic prosperity were on the agenda at the conference, Hun Sen’s declaration spoke to the challenges that will shape “The Future of Asia,” as China is ready to defend Cambodia’s future.
Japan’s decision to tolerate Hun Sen’s violent outburst is unacceptable – and it is the right time for Japan to join with New Zealand, Singapore and others in condemning his transnational threats.
After all the aid that Hun Sen has received from Japan and with Cambodia’s exposure to Japan’s culture and bilateral and cultural development over the last 30 years, the latest threat shows Cambodia’s leadership is following the path of Pol Pot.
The language of courtesy, decency and pacifist culture embraced by his host nation was returned with belligerent threats on its soil as Hun Sen brazenly and shamelessly labeled his intended victim, Sam Rainsy, “a dog that I need to destroy.”
Hun Sen politicizes Cambodia’s rising status as “Asia’s new tiger economy” by claiming it is a result of the culture of violence under his despotic rule.
Cambodia the “rising tiger” dares the European Union to revoke its preferential tariff regime known as “Everything but Arms.” The language of “cooperation,” once used out of desperation by Hun Sen, is no longer on the table as China is ready to fill the vacuum if the European Union withdraws.
No governments should serve as pawns of Hun Sen. The EU and the United States should take action. Cambodians will learn to survive in the same way they always have.
Short-term economic sacrifice aimed at achieving long-term aspirations and political rights for the benefit of all Cambodians, free of privilege with the rule of law equally applied to all men and women without allegiance is the Future of Asia. Moving on from a declaration of war in Japan, Hun Sen’s wrath was then directed at Singapore.
Clashing with Asia’s tiger
All it took was one phrase from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about Cambodia’s past to expose Hun Sen’s 40-year legacy as a sham.
Despite squandering funds and taking possession of 24 provincial landmark sites – while Cambodians are being stripped of their land – Hun Sen’s monument-building program, dedicated to Vietnamese“liberators,” has not convinced Lee, as he recently reminded the world that Vietnam was not a liberator but Cambodia’s invader.
Had Lee been a Cambodian citizen, Hun Sen would have either called him a “dog” or declared war on him and his supporters in the same way he issued his transnational threat to fellow Cambodians from Japan
Not surprisingly, Vietnam, Hun Sen and members of his regime were enraged as Cambodians around the world excitedly took to social media, posting messages congratulating Lee for getting their country’s history right.
To them, Lee is a hero.
In a tribute to the recently deceased Thai statesman Prem Tinsulanonda, Lee recalled that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had come together “to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge.”
If the truth may have hurt Hun Sen and Vietnam, but Lee did not stop there. In fact, he went on to confirm his point from a historical perspective, as reflected in a recent personal recollection by this author, noting, “Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia … [with] ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimized.”
Had Lee been a Cambodian citizen, Hun Sen would have either called him a “dog” or declared war on him and his supporters in the same way he issued his transnational threat to fellow Cambodians from Japan.
After Vietnam and Hun Sen expressed dismay at Lee’s statement, the speaker of Singapore’s Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin, responded: “Vietnam may not like some of the comments made by [the] PM and I guess they can choose to define the past as they see fit. This doesn’t change the past as many view it.”
That past involved a portion of former Cambodian territory in the South Mekong Delta known as Kampuchea Krom. People around the world who hail from there, including in Cambodia, recently marked the 70th anniversary of France ceding it to Vietnam on June 6, 1949.
With his allegiance to Vietnam, Hun Sen did not join with other Cambodians and Khmer Krom to mark this event, instead opting to defend his faux legacy against Singapore.
Instead of acknowledging that Singapore helped Cambodia to end Vietnam’s occupation and the island state’s incessant efforts to be a business partner, Hun Sen described Lee’s statement as being supportive of a “return of a genocidal regime.”
Hun Sen’s statement does not reflect Cambodian values and it must be condemned.
While not yet fully accorded the status of an Asian tiger economy, regional instability for the Future of Asia is being laid bare for the world to see through Hun Sen’s transnational threats.
Singapore’s democracy might be questionable but its rule of law, leadership values and nationalism have no rival in the Western world. Singapore might not be a “Kingdom of Wonder,” but its educated and enlightened leadership exemplifies what Cambodians – other than their dictator – can only wish for.
ASEAN and New Zealand
Through Singapore, ASEAN and New Zealand can help Cambodia to be a good international citizen and neighbor. Having a regime constantly engaging in denials of its own history brings regional instability, as Cambodia’s contribution to the Future of Asia is built on personal legacy as opposed to national sovereignty.
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters recently responded to this author’s petition seeking New Zealand’s adherence to a declaration of 45 nations made on March 21, 2018.
Peters reassured me: “NZ has a core interest in encouraging respect for civil and political rights in all communities, including Cambodia. We will continue to look for opportunities to raise our concerns directly with Cambodia, as well as in regional and multilateral meetings.”
It has been established that when smaller nations like Singapore and New Zealand speak, the world listens. And with effective past policy led by Singapore and ASEAN in pushing back against Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, once again Singapore as a nation of high moral leadership can join with other regional leaders – helping Cambodians by rejecting authoritarianism under Hun Sen.