David Puttnam, the U.K.’s trade envoy to Cambodia and the producer of the 1984 film “The Killing Fields,” on Tuesday warned that Cambodia could go the way of war-torn Middle Eastern countries if it fails to make stability a priority.
Speaking at the Asean Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) Network forum in Phnom Penh during an official visit to the country, Mr. Puttnam said he had met with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday to discuss the country’s future.
“We discussed the issue of stability. It’s a word we use a lot, but isn’t one we entirely understand,” said Mr. Puttnam.
“You only have to see what is going on right now in the Middle East to have a very, very clear understanding of how important stability is. It is fundamental. There will be no road ahead if [Cambodia] were to see the kind of instability that has erupted in the Middle East over the past 40 years,” he said.
Mr. Puttnam’s last visit to Cambodia, in March, became mired in controversy when at a British Chamber of Commerce luncheon he lauded the government’s commitment to eliminating corruption and warned journalists not to “just become another arm of the opposition.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere…where I have received such an absolute answer from government on the issues of stopping and stamping out corruption,” he said at the time, going on to rhetorically ask whether it was the role of the media to “inflame or inform.”
Despite multiple attempts by Asean CSR chief executive officer Thomas Thomas to stop reporters from asking the trade envoy “political questions” at Tuesday’s event, Mr. Puttnam briefly addressed the role of the media when asked.
“I think [journalists] play a vital role when they report accurately, impartially and with a sense of where the nation is going,” Mr. Puttnam said.
He later met with leaders of the opposition CNRP, including vice president Kem Sokha, who told reporters afterward that the trade envoy emphasized the importance of the rule of law in encouraging foreign investment.
“He clarified that the economy will grow based on political stability,” Mr. Sokha said. “He said that if the CNRP hadn’t entered the Assembly, we would not succeed in this area and that we wouldn’t be able to attract investors for economic development unless we have stability.”
Mr. Puttnam told reporters that he discussed “everything” with Mr. Sokha, and declined to comment further.