On his way back to Phnom Penh after the inauguration of the Kunkru Bridge between Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces, Samdech Hun Sen gave an interview to RFA’s Deputy Director Sam Borin on the GMS and ASEAN Summits, partner party in the coalition Government, political threat and violence, and future democracy in Cambodia. Following is the transcription of the interview.
RFA: In the past few weeks, there has been press coverage on the 8th ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. They hail the success of the meeting. However our people have yet the detail account of the success. Could you give complete accounts on this success to listeners of the RFA?
Answer: It is an event that results in two important successes for Cambodia. Firstly, Cambodia was the host of the Summit, which is held for the first time in the Kingdom of Cambodia. It could be said an historical event for Cambodia. What added to its importance was the fact that the first Greater Mekong Sub-Regional Summit was held for the first time in Cambodia prior to the ASEAN Summit itself. In relation to the ASEAN Summit, two important events have happened. They were the ASEAN + India and ASEAN + South Africa summits. Secondly, before the Summits took place, there had been terrorist activities in various places, take for example Bali of Indonesia. There were then predictions that Cambodia could not provide security to the Summits. But we had proven that we were able to provide complete security to these very honorary meetings. As for the ASEAN member countries, the achievements are the various agreements that have been reached and signed. Maybe I would like to have your attention on the fact that in 1998, ASEAN was then a nine-member association with Cambodia not becoming its full member yet. They had approved what they called the 2020-Hanoi Action Plan. In 1999, the ASEAN meeting in Manila of the Philippines, they signed no agreements but they had in fact sounded out the initiatives for contacts with Northeast Asia and East Asia. In 2000 the ASEAN Heads of States/Governments gathered in Singapore and signed “e-ASEAN” agreement. The ASEAN summit in 2001 in Brunei signed no agreements as well. But there have been many agreements signed in the Phnom Penh-ASEAN Summit. First of all there was a joint declaration against terrorism, which could be said the currently most outstanding issue that requires a joint force against terrorism. Within the ASEAN framework we have signed the ASEAN Tourism Agreement, which is in fact the Cambodian initiative or my own initiative to put it in other words. We have also signed the ASEAN-China Agreement on the free trade area. This was in fact a difficult deal, especially when we need to have a consensus as to when we want this idea fulfilled – 2010 or 2012. It was also hard to have a consensus among the ASEAN members on the schedules because some countries preferred 2010, while others saw it better in 2012. With lots of coordination efforts, the ASEAN + China Summit came to the signing of the Agreement in Phnom Penh. There was another agreement, the South China Sea Agreement, which is the most difficult topic during the summit. This issue had been topic of discussion for many years, from one host country to another, but it has been reached in Phnom Penh, which they call the Phnom Penh Agreement. So I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Heads of States/Governments of the country members for their generous offer of such an honor to Cambodia while it hosted coordinated the summit. There are comprehensive agreements reached in the framework of ASEAN + Japan and the approval of the vision of cooperation of ASEAN + Japan and East Asia which were initiated by the Republic of Korea. The first ASEAN + India summit granted a great significance and it has shown a sign of sustainability. In the first hand among the ASEAN members we seem to have no consensus as to how often would the ASEAN + India summit take place. In the end we came to a consensus that the ASEAN + India summit will take place every year like those of the ASEAN + Japan, ASEAN + China and ASEAN + the Republic of Korea. I may wrap up that many difficult issues in the framework of ASEAN, ASEAN and its partners like the South China Sea issue or the ASEAN-China free trade agreement – which are all sensitive, have all been resolved in Phnom Penh. May be I have made a long comment but I think it helps you when you make further study on this matter.
RFA: Could you please tell our listeners in more detail about the Greater Mekong Sub-region Summit. What has the summit achieved?
Answer: Maybe I should elaborate in more detail on this. What have been achieved in Phnom Penh are the three of my own initiatives. The first initiative is the ASEAN + India Summit. In my visit to India in 2000 I had suggested that it is high time for the summit to take place. India agreed with my idea and proposed that Cambodia help coordinate the procedure. So the task has been completed and the ASEAN + India summit will take place every year. The second is the agreement of ASEAN Tourism, which I proposed it to the ASEAN Heads of States/Governments in the summit in Brunei in 2001. The third initiative is the GMS summit. This is very important. If we talk about the Mekong River Commission it consists of only four countries – Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. China and Burma are not its members. I see that the river environment management is very important, but it also should be made a contributing factor to the economic growth in this region leading to the poverty alleviation. I presented this idea to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) who has actively involved in this process. Finally the Heads of States/Governments of the six countries along the Mekong River, the People’s Republic of China included, have all voiced their support. The three agreements could be considered historic. If we could score success in the GMS framework, the GMS countries could be complementary to the ASEAN pace f development as this would result in the narrowing of gap between the new and old ASEAN members. Narrowing the gap between the new and old countries does not mean that Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia, who are older ASEAN countries, to reduce their pace of development or to become poor countries as Pol Pot made the rich people poor in our country. The idea is to make poorer countries advanced. The four ASEAN countries located along the Mekong River are Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. With the financial assistance from the ADB we will make further development. That will include the connection of infrastructures like the pan-ASEAN rail, which runs through many countries – Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and will stretch through to China. This is known to be “ASEAN-Kunming and Singapore rail.” But we would not be able to fulfil this task if we do not initiate the development in the Mekong River Basin. The draft agreement of ASEAN energy also bears this point. Member countries would make progress in a timely manner together only when they can complement one another as the construction of the hydropower in Laos could also help provide electricity to countries in shortage of electric power. This is what I say a success. Thailand proposed an initiative to create what is called the “Mekong Airline.” Taking this opportunity I wish to inform you about my previous ambitious wish. I have proposed to ADB to set up in Phnom Penh a center for human resource development for the six countries along the Mekong River. But after several discussions the question of sustainability for the center operation arises. We then swapped the draft project to the Phnom Penh Plan after my discussion with ADB. Formerly in Asia we have the Colombo Plan, which provides scholarship on human resource training. Now we have the Phnom Penh Plan, which will be financed by ADB in providing scholarship to the six countries along the Mekong River. So at least Cambodia has played some roles in this effort.
RFA: The current Royal Government is a coalition Government with FUNCINPEC as junior partner and CPP as senior. There have been press reports on the problem of cooperation in the Coalition Government. The CPP’s partner seems to have internal problems and people are suspicious of what is going on. Could you make clear on this matter?
Answer: We should first categorize it into separate issues. Talking about the aspect of alliance as partners in the coalition Government I am very proud because officials from the two parties are working together in the current Royal Government. I may say that the second-term Royal Government has been fairly stabilized and there has been a very good cooperation. I used to say that the Cambodian People’s Party and FUNCINPEC could be compared to a plane with two wings. With either one of its wing is broken, the plane would not be flying. The second-term Government has scored lots of achievements, which are achievements in common. They are not achievements that belong to only CPP or FUNCINPEC separately. They are born out of the efforts made by both. So we could say we share half by half. Or to put in other word we serve our nation. The correct political program of the Royal Government jointly created by the two parties has been the foundation of my comment that the current Government is stable. As for the second point regarding the disagreement, I think we better put it in this way. Some members of the Senate and the National Assembly have expressed their ideas and I do not consider this as a political conflict between the partner parties at all. I consider it as freedom of expression that as members of the Senate or the National Assembly they have to have. They are in fact constructive opinions and are not frightful. I do not take them as attacks on the Royal Government. It is not stranger to me and I always digest those opinions because considering what they have said sometimes show that it is correct. One has to accept the truth and if one neglects it one could not lead the Government at all. This should include also opinions given by one’s siblings. The third issue, which is not my task to get involved, is the rift in the partner party. It has gone beyond my capacity. Members of the CPP, myself also included, will not interfere in the partner party’s affairs at all. But if we are approached for help, we may do so but there has to be rational proposal. Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Rannaridh and I used to have regular meetings, if not face to face we meet on the phones. We have resolved many issues. But all were done only for issues within my competence. Take for example in my position as Prime Minister, I have to respect the proposed changes of FUNCINPEC leaders in political positions. If the candidates are assigned by the Royal Decree, I have to issue a request for changes to HM the King and if necessary I have to seek approval of the National Assembly. So the decision is the Assembly’s and not Hun Sen’s. So I have distinguished the issue clearly.
RFA: As you also know that FUNCINPEC is a big party and it won CPP in the first term elections. What is your impression when you see that the partner party FUNCINPEC, with whom CPP will compete in the next elections, is in such a crisis? Are you happy or unhappy, for example, to see this situation?
Answer: I must say out loud that when one sets up a political party one always wants to be the winner and no one would want to be a loser. It is a true statement and as a human being one has to dare say it. I can say that my vision is that Cambodia needs to have coalition Government not only for one or two terms more, but at least in fifteen years from now. Taking the actual situation of Cambodia into consideration, CPP could not drive FUNCINPEC out, and probably FUNCINPEC could not do it otherwise. The bottom line is that one party needs to have two-third majority in the National Assembly (in order to set up a Government), but no one party could achieve this. So coalition Government is the option. So it is my vision to see that CPP wants to go on staying with FUNCINPEC. Therefore, CPP has no reason to be happy when it sees that FUNCINPEC is in fracture. As I said earlier if CPP is the husband and FUNCINPEC is the wife, it would not be a happy moment when the husband sees that his wife or her siblings are in conflict. We pray they get over with the conflicts, which may boomerang on us. So I certainly do not want to see the fracture in the partner party and I hope that it can resolve the differences without interference from outsiders. I hope that FUNCINPEC is capable to resolve the problem, to control its internal problems and to refrain itself from further deterioration because of instigation by outsiders. CPP is very concerned if its partner could not resolve the internal differences for we need a strong partner.
RFA: I have many questions regarding the issue of political party in the Coalition Government and I hope you would give me chances to ask you those questions some other time. As we approach the next elections, which you have set the date on July 27, 2003, there have been interpretations about violations of election law like in the form of killings as well as vote buying. Travelling throughout Cambodia, I heard of a new CPP’s trick. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is seen in the road as they are building roads, bridges, etc. Some politicians are saying that the presence of the troops that is under the CPP’s control would threaten the forthcoming elections. The presence would force the people to vote for CPP or the army will take measures against them. So what is your reaction to the said allegation or to the preparation for the elections in 2003?
Answer: It is a funny question but it stems out of the silly arguments of only some politicians. Cambodia is 181,035 square Kilometers and our people are living all over the country. The number of our army working on road or bridge construction is limited by the size of our financial resources. We do not use our army to build roads that are already in good condition, but in places where roads are in demand. As you might have seen we do not have the army in the national road 4 as the road is in good condition. The practice was seen taking place also in the Samgkum Reastrniyum period under the leadership of HM the King Norodom Sihanouk. He then used mostly the army to build roads. I also follow this example because they have their engineering equipment and they could work in land-mined areas. I do not understand why they bring up this matter. I think they should say it otherwise that they are afraid that when the army finish building the road, the people will see the benefit of the road and will then be grateful to Hun Sen. I think this is probably a better argument. Any party or person that uses force to threaten people, s/he will lose the support/vote. I do not think CPP is that stupid and we would pose no threat and intimidation to anyone at all. On top of that all votes are confidential. This kind of people is making up hundreds or thousands of stories. If we do not build roads/bridges, they would blame the Government as incapable in this matter. But when the Government realizes many of the needed infrastructures they are concerned that they are left with nothing for campaigning. They usually campaign that if they win the elections they will build roads and bridges. So when roads, bridges and schools have all been built, what else can they say and do? I think they should say their minds this way rather than arguing immorally as such. I would not want to compare them with Bin Laden team, but they are the men of the type.
RFA: What is your vision on democracy building in Cambodia?
Answer: I am grateful to this question because it allows me to speak some of my visions on how to sustain the nation as well as democracy building in Cambodia. It is true that we have various political programs, which include the triangle strategy, the win-win policy, the four dimensional reforms and I do not want to talk about these issues again. What I wanted to say is that we have to refrain from doing four mistakes. First is to refrain from committing political mistake. One should not be reckless on this matter. Committing a political mistake may lead to jeopardy for the nation and people. So in all times, not only the time before or after the elections, this matter has to be born in mind. The political program has to respond to the actual need of the people. The political mistake could be deadlier than that caused by a nuclear bomb. We may think of wrong political decision by Lon Nol and Pol Pot, which brought about devastation to the country. Second is to increase vigilance for national security and social order. In the past year we have noticed so many terrorist incidents here and there, and the US also included. The ASEAN summit was conducted in a good security environment and the Water Festival with about three million people participated in Phnom Penh proved that we could provide security. But we must not overlook the security issue at anytime because our enemy is in the dark, while we are in daylight. Though Cambodia is not a target of the terrorists but we also want to attract investors and tourists to Cambodia. Currently the number of tourist increases and if we were to lose our vigilance that caused insecurity in any places; it would have a bad impact. I wish also to say that we have to provide the best security for the forthcoming elections and to prevent all sorts of violence act. I would want to hear even war of words. But we could not shut up anyone. We can try to silence the noise of gunfire and even the attacks by stone throwing, etc. So if we were to be reckless on issue of security, it would give a negative impact on political environment or safety and security of our people as well as a free and fair elections. Thirdly we have to do anything possible to prevent hunger among our people. It is well known that Cambodia has had three consecutive years of natural calamity – 2000, 2001 and 2002. My order in this situation is that no one is left to die of hunger without the knowledge and help. The measures taken is not only about providing people with food but their rice cultivation ranging from transplantation to irrigation as you may have seen just now that rice has good yield. It is truly difficult but we have to be precautionary in terms of food stocks so as to avoid problems like in Somalia… Being short of food is one thing but hunger is another and in Cambodia, the Royal Government will not let this situation happen at all. Fourthly, do not risk the loss of macro-economic stability and inflation. In 1999, we had 6.4% growth rate, and 0% inflation. In 2000 — 7.7% and 0% inflation. In 2001 – 6.3%, and 0% inflation. And in 2002 there have been various abnormal situations but we are able to achieve 5% growth and under 4% inflation rate. Inflation could be more destructive than a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb affects only in the place it goes off. But inflation would destabilize the whole country. If we are able to control the four mistakes, I think the Royal Government will continue to sustain till the end of its term and the successive Government will take over in a better position from the start because of stable economic growth and low inflation and good security. I think whoever wins the next elections will be satisfied. Whoever wants to be Prime Minister of Cambodia should pray for the current Government to fulfil a good job, to produce more rice, to attract more tourists… So they could start in a better condition than when I did in 1979. Then with only 70 people to start with, I had no money, electricity, water… This is all I wanted to say about guaranteeing development and democracy building in Cambodia… EndItem