Prime Minister Hun Sen has squashed an “unauthorized” overture to the Taiwanese government raising the possibility of reopening a representative office in Cambodia, aides said Tuesday.
Until last year one of the country’s biggest investors, Taiwan has had no official representative in Cambodia since its office was shut on Hun Sen’s orders shortly after the CPP won factional fighting in Phnom Penh in July 1997.
Since then, Phnom Penh has maintained close ties with the mainland Chinese government.
Yet, 12 days ago, Phnom Penh’s Third Deputy Governor He Kan signed a “request to reopen the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.” The Nov 20 letter was addressed to the municipal government of the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
Phnom Penh “would be very happy to have this office reopened,” the letter said. “I will forward this issue to my government and I will issue a formal invitation to the Taipei delegation to come and discuss this with the municipality in the near future.”
On Nov 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a note on the municipality’s announcement saying the request was unauthorized by the government. Hun Sen’s office sent a copy of the annotated letter to the Chinese Embassy, an embassy official said on Tuesday.
Senior aides to Hun Sen said he rejected the request. “It was not the Municipality who decided on that [letter], it was just one person,” said Prak Sokhonn, a senior aide to Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Our policy is the one-China policy…and we consider Taiwan to be part of China.”
First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said he knew nothing about He Kan’s letter until several days after it had been written. He ordered his cabinet chief, Mann Chhoern, to write a second letter rejecting the proposal.
He Kan could not be reached Tuesday, but a senior assistant confirmed his boss wrote the letter. The aide said it had been approved from higher levels.
Cambodia and Taiwan have had a complicated relationship in recent years. Taiwan used to be one of the biggest investors. More than $200-million worth of projects were approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia between 1994 and mid-1997. Taiwan and Cambodia renewed “semi-official” diplomatic ties in 1994 for the first time since they were ended by the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975.
A few weeks after fighting in the capital in July 1997, Chea Sophara notified the Taiwanese representative office that it had a week to leave the country.
Hun Sen had claimed a two-star Taiwanese general posted to the office supplied Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh—who was ousted as first prime minister as a result of the factional fighting—with weapons and money used during fighting.
Taiwan denied the charges.
After the Taiwanese office was shut down, the value of proposed investment projects dropped dramatically. The value fell from $66 million in the 12 months before the fighting to $9 million in the 12 months afterward.
Conversely, the value of proposed investment approved by the Cambodia Investment Board from China increased sharply in the 12 months following fighting in the capital in July 1997, while nearly every other country’s investment proposals have dropped.