Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped into the Hun Manet-Sam Rainsy war of words over the validity of Manet’s degree from the US Military Academy at West Point, set off by Rainsy’s claims that Manet had received a “second-class degree” or “honorary degree”.
Hun Sen said that only the US could determine whether his son Manet’s degree was not earned in full as former opposition leader Rainsy said, calling on both the US and the UK – the countries where Manet received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and his PhD, respectively – to weigh in on Rainsy’s claims.
“I think only the US can clarify this matter. I ask West Point, are you willing to sacrifice your credibility by ignoring this claim? I’m talking to the US and I know they can hear me speaking. Does the US want West Point to be discredited by the words of one man?
“Will the US have their say about this accusation that West Point gives out second-class degrees or honorary degrees to foreign students? Does the US want to protect a mischievous man or protect their own military academy? Speak, not to protect Hun Manet, but to protect the reputation of your schools,” Hun Sen said.
He made the remarks at an awards ceremony for Cambodian petanque player Ouk Sreymom who won a world gold medal at a competition in Santa Susana, Spain, in November last year.
Rainsy, former leader of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has made the accusation several times in the past, claiming that the degree awarded to Manet at West Point in 1999 was only given to the children of foreign leaders.
“They just let them pass without actually doing the work. The degrees given to high-ranking officials from other countries are just to maintain good diplomatic relations,” Rainsy said in a Radio Free Asia (RFA) interview on December 26.
Manet currently holds the rank of three-star or lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), where he serves as deputy commander-in-chief and commander of the army’s infantry.
Manet noted last week that he also graduated from New York University (NYU) where he received a master’s in economics and the University of Bristol in the UK where he obtained his PhD in the same field.
Hun Sen posed a rhetorical question, asking whether NYU and the University of Bristol also give out unearned degrees – a matter that Rainsy did not address in his recent radio interview and has remained silent on.
“Only the US and the UK can protect the reputations of their schools. They should speak up and confirm or deny these claims. If they think that making a clarification on this issue is a political attack on the individual who made these claims, that’s alright – but they will have to decide whether they will defend their educational institutions or a troublemaker,” he said.
Chad Roedemeier, spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh, declined to comment on January 5, referring reporters to the universities in question.
The US Military Academy at West Point issued a press statement in 2019 in response to similar allegations made by Rainsy at the time.
The West Point press statement said Manet graduated with a bachelor of science in economics and that the school did not give out unearned or “second-class” degrees to anyone under any circumstances, nor does it have an easier admissions process for foreign students.