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Editorial: Cambodian election shows expansion of 'China model'

In the Cambodian general elections, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen is poised to mark a complete victory. The party said it will win every seat in the lower house. We are concerned that this development will lead to a dictatorial administration.

In the last general elections in 2013 and the local elections in June last year, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made substantial gains, winning nearly half the seats contested. Prompted by Mr. Hun Sen's fear his government could lose power, police authorities arrested the CNRP head on suspicion of treason in September last year. Moreover, the following November the supreme court ruled that the opposition party had had tried to topple the government and ordered it to disband.

Some 20 parties took part in the latest general elections, but most of them are said to be controlled by the CPP. It was an election where the opposition was excluded and conditions were primed for the ruling party.

In Southeast Asia, authoritarian administrations are making a comeback, triggering worries in the United States and Europe. Behind this trend is the presence of China, which is strengthening its influence by making major investments in those countries.

In Cambodia, corruption is rampant under Mr. Hun Sen's long-term rule, but annual economic growth over the past decade has averaged a whopping 7 percent.

It can be argued that while U.S. President Donald Trump, under the banner of America First, fails to show interest in Southeast Asia, a "China-style development model" that ignores human rights issues is spreading. Phnom Penh has become so friendly with Beijing that it is backing China in the international tug of war over the South China Sea.

This means that involvement and cooperation by the international community is now vital.

The U.S. and Europe blasted the latest elections as defective, and Washington is reportedly considering new sanctions. But trying to force certain values on Cambodia will only result in binding the country closer to China.

It has been 25 years since Cambodia's first post-civil war election was carried out under United Nations auspices. Yasushi Akashi, who supervised the polls as the then head of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia, says, "Democracy and human rights are universal issues, but how to achieve them needs to be considered in a flexible manner depending on countries and their cultures."

Japan stopped short of dispatching observers to the latest general elections, but offered some cooperation such as providing election boxes. Tokyo has been actively involved in Cambodia's nation building by participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations there in 1992, making the first overseas dispatch of Self-Defense Force personnel. Japan must review its policy to establish a new form of engagement with Cambodia.

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