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Opposition Leader Says He Supports China Over Vietnam

Sam Rainsy (C), leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), marches during International Human Rights Day in Phnom Penh, Dec. 10, 2013.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told supporters this week that the Cambodia National Rescue Party and its members “support China fully” in claims against Vietnam.

The message to supporters coincided with the visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who was in Phnom Penh for a number of trade agreements with Cambodia.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment is present among many Cambodians, who remain angry at the decade-long occupation of Cambodia by its eastern neighbor, from 1979 to 1989. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has frequently turned to that traditional animosity to garner support among the populace.

China, meanwhile, has made many inroads in Cambodia, through aid, investment and development.

“We support China fully for united, territorial sovereignty against a Vietnamese invasion,” Sam Rainsy told supporters, in a message that he carried in the provinces of Siem Reap, Bantey Meanchey and Battambang.

He also raised questions about Cambodia’s border with Vietnam, encroachment and illegal immigration by Vietnamese nationals—all hot-button issues for his supporters.

“The interests of China go along with the sovereignty of our country,” he said. “If Vietnam were to succeed in swallowing Cambodia, Vietnam would become more powerful and would make more issues with China. So to protect their interests, China must protect Cambodia. This is a benefit to us. We have to gain support against Vietnam to prevent them from swallowing us.”

Sam Rainsy said he hoped China would help “solve Cambodia’s political crisis and protect Cambodia against Vietnam.”

Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst in Phnom Penh, said China’s help is not needed to resolve the political impasse. “We have local mechanisms already,” he said, referring to planned negotiations.

On the other hand, China is a key player in Cambodia’s economy and its general politics, he said.