China supports Cambodia's crackdown on political opposition

A man stands near posters the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

BEIJING (Reuters) - China supports Cambodia’s efforts to protect political stability and believes it will smoothly hold elections next year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Cambodian counterpart, after the country’s main opposition party was dissolved.

The Supreme Court banned the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last week at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in a move that prompted the United States to cut election funding and threaten more punitive steps.

The European Union has also threatened action.

The CNRP was banned after its leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for alleged treason. The government says he sought to take power with American help. He rejects that allegation as politically motivated, to allow Hun Sen to extend his more than three decades in power in next year’s general election.

The United States has said that Cambodia’s 2018 election “will not be legitimate, free or fair”.

Meeting on Monday on the sides of a Asia-Europe foreign ministers meeting in Myanmar, Wang told his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon that China supported the government’s actions.

“China supports the Cambodian side’s efforts to protect political stability and achieve economic development, and believes the Cambodian government can lead the people to deal with domestic and foreign challenges, and will smoothly hold elections next year,”, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a Tuesday statement.

China has repeatedly expressed its support for Cambodia, making no criticism of the government led by Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, who is one of Beijing’s most important allies in Southeast Asia after more than three decades in power.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry