Cambodia slams US legislator's bid to impose sanctions

PHNOM PENH • Cambodia has condemned a proposal by an American congressman to impose financial sanctions on long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and his officials, saying the bid destroyed the credibility of the United States.

Mr Ted Yoho, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said on Thursday a "Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018" aimed to impose financial sanctions, in addition to visa restrictions that Washington placed last year, on Cambodian officials for "undermining democracy" with a crackdown on critics ahead of a July general election.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday the proposal "offended" Cambodia and was "bad" US foreign policy.

"He drafted the Bill in his office from the other side of the world ... it destroys America's credibility," Mr Phay Siphan told Reuters.

Relations between Cambodia and the US have been strained recently over American criticism of the government crackdown on dissent, and Prime Minister Hun Sen's anger over what he says have been US efforts to undermine his rule.

The US has denied interfering in Cambodian politics.

In December, Washington said it would restrict US entry to people involved in Cambodian action to undermine democracy, including the dissolution of the main opposition party and imprisonment of its leader.

The visa sanctions were the toughest steps by any Western country since Mr Hun Sen launched the crackdown on critics.

The European Union and the US have not removed preferential trade access for Cambodia's vital garments sector, despite calls from rights groups for targeted sanctions.

Both the EU and the US have withdrawn funding for the July election, when Mr Hun Sen hopes to extend his more than three decades in power.

Republican Representative Yoho said in a statement that the Cambodian people were "starving for democracy".

He said the Act would push back against the Hun Sen regime's undermining of democracy "... by applying financial sanctions to the figures who carry out this despicable agenda".

Chinese support for big-ticket projects has allowed Mr Hun Sen to brush off Western criticism of his crackdown.

China vastly outspends the US in the Indochinese country once destroyed by Cold War superpower rivalry, and its money goes on highly visible infrastructure projects and with no demands for political reform.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Cambodia slams US legislator's bid to impose sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe