Prime Minister Hun Sen criticized Cambodians wanting to come back from Wuhan, China, where a pneumonia outbreak has been declared a global emergency, with the premier wanting Cambodian diplomats and students to stay in China to show solidarity with Asian powerhouse.
The World Health Organization reported on January 30, 2020, at least 7,800 confirmed cases of the virus globally, 7,726 of which were in China itself. The WHO also declared a global emergency Thursday evening because of the quick uptick in the spread of the virus and evidence of human-to-human transmission.
Cambodia has recorded one confirmed case so far, a Chinese national who arrived in the coastal town of Sihanoukville last week. The government has confirmed to local media that around 3,000 Chinese nationals have entered the country from Wuhan since the outbreak began in late December.
However, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that Cambodian diplomats and students should remain in Wuhan, China, and help the Chinese combat the viral spread. He insisted that Cambodians cannot desert the Chinese in their time of need.
“Don’t run away from the Chinese people during this difficult moment,” he said.
“Loving each other during the time of adversity, being good friends during these difficult circumstances. This is the slogan of Cambodia since our ancestral times,” he added.
There are at least 23 Cambodian students in Wuhan, with 80 other students, who returned to Cambodia last week, all testing negative for the coronavirus.
Cambodia has grown increasingly close to China over the last five years, especially on account of increased investment and Beijing’s tacit support for the Cambodian government’s recent crackdown on constitutional freedoms.
Other countries have been working with Chinese authorities to evacuate their citizens from the country. This week, the United States and Japan evacuated their citizens on chartered flights, with the European Union considering similar actions. Myanmar said it had also spoken to Chinese officials about evacuating their citizens.
The prime minister, probably on account of his increased reliance and friendship with Beijing, has been critical of health precautions taken by the Cambodians. At the press conference, he chided journalists for wearing surgical masks and said that anyone continuing to wear the mask will be asked to leave the press conference.
He said Cambodia would not cancel any flights, ships nor prevent Chinese nationals and tourists from entering the country, constantly suggesting that this would negatively impact the Chinese people’s morale.
The prime minister also took umbrage with comments made by Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, who criticized the Cambodian government for continuing to allow incoming flights from China.
“Let’s send a message to Phil Robertson that if you have given advice to the Cambodian government to be responsible and to blame it, please put the blame on every country, including the country where you are at,” the premier said.
In response, Robertson said that in light of a global emergency it was not unreasonable to expect the government to take preventive measures to protect its citizens.
“Other countries around the world are taking action to contain the spread of the coronavirus while at the same time upholding basic human rights, so Cambodia should do so as well,” he said.