Travelling in and out of Cambodia for the past 2 years, each time I arrived to news detailing a further demise of Cambodian human rights. I came to a point where I had to turn off from the sheer hopelessness of the situation, and thought that whilst Australia had its moments, I remembered why we really are the lucky the country.
Fast forward two months of arriving back home, to reading an exert of a recent speech given by Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander (yes, his real title). Quoted stating, “I am determined. If they burn an effigy of me I will pursue them to their homes and beat them-up,” and “I tell you in advance. I want to make clear. If they have a right to burn me I have the right to go to their homes and seize them,”.
At first glance, this appears like just another unscripted outburst by a man well known for making and carrying out threats against his own people. However, this was not made to Cambodian’s. This was a speech given in direct reference to the upcoming Australian-ASEAN Summit, to be held in Sydney this March. Indicating how his personal security staff are to deal with Australian’s planning to protest his visit.
Many would ask why such a blatant threat to Australian citizens, on Australian soil, by a foreign leader would not be swiftly and loudly admonished by the Turnbull Government.
However, this is the new age of Australian and Cambodian relations.
When in 2014, Australia and Cambodia formally became strategic partners through the ASEAN partnership, recognizing the importance of the relationship in building mutual security and prosperity in the region. Effectively giving validation to the Cambodian government and legitimizing its rhetoric.
Both Liberal and Labor Ministers have been working hard to strengthen ties with The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (more commonly known as ASEAN). A block of ten member states, consisting of South East Asia’s ten largest economies. A group that as of 2016, consisted of $224 billion in two-way trade, an amount greater than the two-way trade for Australia-China.
Australian-Cambodian relations have been further complicated by the highly contentious Australian resettlement option, offered too Nauru-determined refugees. A deal the Turnbull Government remains steadfast too, in face of the increasing deterioration of human rights in the country.
Whilst Australia should always endeavour to reach out too establish trade, and diplomatic partnerships with foreign states. Ignoring a sovereign states treatment of its own people, for Australian gain, is one thing. Ignoring threats made against Australian citizens, on its own territory, is another.