Using unusually strong language about his ties to Vietnam, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday personally slapped down a Facebook user who accused him of “betraying” Cambodia’s eastern neighbour, asserting “Vietnam is not my boss”.
Replying to the comment by an account named “Pham Duc Hien”, the premier emphasised his loyalty to the Kingdom, while also telling the user to relay the message to Vietnam’s leaders who “always respect Cambodia’s sovereignty and are totally different from you, who is unimportant”.
“You need to know that I am loyal with my Cambodian people, my King, and my beloved wife. Vietnam is not my boss who I have to be loyal with,” Hun Sen stated. “If you are a Vietnamese living in Cambodia, you must respect Cambodia’s law; if you are living in Cambodia illegally, you must leave Cambodia; and if you live in Vietnam, please love Vietnam’s leader”.
Opponents of the premier have long attacked the ruling Cambodian People’s Party links to Vietnam, saying the country, which backed the military invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge and brought the CPP’s core members to power, still wields too much influence in the country.
However, more recently, Cambodia has made a shift towards China, the Kingdom’s largest foreign investor, which analysts say has allowed the prime minister to more openly distance himself from Hanoi.
Last year, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly released a series of terse diplomatic notes sent to Vietnam protesting construction within disputed border areas, a sensitive subject for many Cambodians.
Speaking yesterday, political observer Ou Virak said the recent comments appeared both a bid for popularity among voters critical of Vietnam and an attempt to neutralise one of the opposition’s main weapons of attack.
“But the question is: will they believe him?” Virak added, saying there was a difference between social media statements and significant shifts in foreign policy.
Southeast Asia analyst Carl Thayer, meanwhile, said that while Vietnam was unlikely to be happy with Cambodia given its recent comments in support of China’s position in the South China Sea, to which Vietnam has a rival claim, Hanoi had a “sophisticated” foreign policy of attempting to balance competing interests and wouldn’t be surprised by Hun Sen’s growing ties with China.
“It’s not new. Vietnam isn’t currently waking up and finding Cambodia adopting a policy which is unexpected . . . they know they can’t change it,” Thayer said.