Cambodia’s government yesterday laughed off rare efforts by Donald Trump’s administration to punish it over a clampdown on democracy and human rights, as the kingdom effectively becomes a one-party state under strongman Hun Sen.
The State Department said on Wednesday it would bar Cambodian officials deemed to have been “undermining democracy” from entry to the US.
That came after Cambodia’s Supreme Court last month dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and redistributed its seats to factions allied with Hun Sen’s ruling party.
The dissolution followed the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha for treason. Dozens of other party members have fled the country in a snowballing crackdown on critics of the prime minister.
The State Department said its move was a “direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions”.
Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, has used the kingdom’s pliant judiciary to smother his critics as elections loom.
Ties between the two nations have withered in recent months with Hun Sen preferring Beijing’s no-questions-asked offer of loans and investment to Washington’s opprobrium on rights as he looks to extend his 32-year grip on power.
“If Cambodian people cannot go to US, it is okay, it is not a problem,” government spokesman Sok Eysan said, shrugging off the State Department threats.
“If we can not join any meetings in the US, there are many other meetings outside the US that we can join.”
The State Department did not disclose which Cambodian ruling party officials would be affected by the restrictions but said in certain instances, their relatives could be also be barred from entering the US.
Huy Vannak, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, called the move a “desperate measure” that unpicks President Trump’s “policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states”.
Cambodia’s relations with the US have gone into deep freeze in recent months.
Hun Sen’s government has singled out US-funded media outlets critical of the regime, limiting access to Voice of America and forcing Radio Free Asia to shutter.
Two former RFA journalists have been arrested and charged with espionage.
At the same time, Cambodia has moved into a closer orbit of China.
Its economy is growing fast thanks to Chinese investment and soft loans that come without directions on human rights or democracy.